As I got to the end of my game story on last Saturday’s Virginia-Old Dominion men’s basketball game, it occurred to me that I had not used any quotes from UVa head coach Tony Bennett.
Virginia is an athletic program that we cover on a regular basis, so normally these stories are written from a UVa standpoint – win or lose – but I just found the ODU angle to be a little more compelling. Plus, Monarchs’ coach Blaine Taylor was a quote machine.
But, what’s one to make of a Virginia team going to the Richmond Coliseum on an eight-game losing streak and losing to an ODU team that had lost nine in a row?
If you’re a Virginia fan, I wouldn’t give up on the rest of the season. Chances were, ODU was going to have a good game at some point. The Monarchs won 23 games last year. They’d won 20 or more games in seven of the past eight seasons. I’m not sure people should have been stunned when they beat UVa 61-59 on a neutral floor.
“We couldn’t come up with a stop when we needed,” Bennett said afterwards.
Bennett is a defensive-minded coach, so when the Cavaliers lose, that’s the first thing that gets his attention. However, Old Dominion only shot 38.5 percent from the field, and usually, as the opposing team, you can live with that. What killed UVa was ODU’s 39.1-percent shooting (9-of-23) from 3-point range.
That’s the equivalent of shooting 59-plus percent from 2-point range.
Another key factor: Old Dominion outrebounded the Cavaliers 39-32, with DeShawn Painter, a transfer from North Carolina State, leading the way with 11.
Aside from Painter, listed at 6 foot 9 and 235 pounds, the Monarchs had little size. ODU’s only other starter who was taller than 6-5 was 6-7 Richard Ross, who played 24 minutes but did not score.
Ross had nine rebounds, however, and you have to wonder how that happened?
IT WAS ONLY the second time in 12 outings that UVa had been outrebounded and the Cavaliers were coming off a 75-57 victory over Morgan State in which they had outrebounded the Bears by 18. And, Morgan State had a 7-foot-2 center.
“Akil [Mitchell] was pretty solid on the glass,” said Bennett after the ODU game. “Darion [Atkins] did not have one of his best games. He’s been playing well for us, but he struggled tonight.”
UVa has been able to get by with a relatively smallish frontcourt of Mitchell (6-8, 234) and Atkins (6-8, 222). Atkins never was able to get in a flow against ODU, mostly because he was in foul trouble.
Atkins played only 22 minutes before fouling out. It was the first time he had fouled out all season, but he had picked up four fouls on three earlier occasions. What’s more, he seemed to lose his cool and was on the verge of picking up a technical foul at one point.
Freshman Mike Tobey, the Cavaliers’ near 7-footer, came off the bench to score six points on 3-for-3 shooting from the field. He played four minutes in the first half and five in the second half but did not collect a rebound.
Remember, Bennett hadn’t been happy with his team’s overall play three days earlier in the win over Morgan State.
“I DIDN’T FEEL WE PLAYED particularly in important areas against Morgan State and even in practice,” Bennett said. “That’s always a concern. As a coach, you’re always looking at things.
“We let the young man [Dewayne] Jackson score 32 points in that game. And then [ODU’s Dimitri] Batten had quite a few [16 of his 23] in the second half. I told them, we have to trust in each other and our defensive system and at times that didn’t show up.”
Virginia’s loss was its first since freshman point guard Teven Jones became available in the fourth game of the season. It’s hard to see the Cavaliers beating Wisconsin or Tennessee without Jones, but the absence of UVa senior point guard Jontel Evans was more noticeable against ODU than it had been in any other game.
Evans, who missed the first two games of the season and subsequently has been sidelined twice after seeking to return from October foot surgery, was a first-team ACC All-Defensive selection last year and presumably, if able-bodied, would have put more pressure on the perimeter.
Some in the media, me included, were wondering if the Cavaliers were holding out Evans in an effort to get him closer to 100 percent for the start of conference play Jan. 6 against visiting North Carolina. He was not in uniform against the Monarchs.
“It would have been nice,” said Bennett when asked about Evans’ availability. “We’re being very conservative with him and want to give him the best chance to come back. Whether it’s Jontel or not, it makes a difference if you can keep guys in front of you.
“We have to do a better job of that and also getting to the lane and putting pressure on the defense. Both of those areas were lacking.”
MUCH WAS MADE of Virginia’s third loss this season against teams from the Colonial Athletic Association, but at least they weren’t the CAA dregs, ODU’s record (1-10 going into the game) notwithstanding.
Drexel was the preseason choice for first out of 11 CAA teams, followed by the three Cavalier-killers, preseason second-place choice Delaware, third-place George Mason and fourth-place ODU.