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College Men’s Basketball: Freshman fits in
CAVALIERS ARE RISING ALONG WITH ANDERSON
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
CHARLOTTESVILLE—As Justin Anderson maneuvered through a double-team with 22 seconds left in a win over Boston College Saturday, he did what came naturally.
The freshman guard from Westmoreland County threw down a two-handed dunk that put an exclamation point on Virginia’s third straight victory, a 65–51 triumph at John Paul Jones Arena.
N.C. STATE (16–4) at VIRGINIA (14–5)
WHEN: Tonight. 7 p.m.
WHERE: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville
But Anderson was a bit sheepish about the play because the Eagles might’ve thought another two points were unnecessary. He apologized to Boston College coach Steve Donahue afterward.
“I see that as disrespectful, and that’s not something I want to do,” Anderson said. “When I saw the trap came, I felt like I had to get out of it. I’d already jumped and I was in the air, so I just finished it. I wanted to make sure I had it in my mind to apologize to that coach, because I did not want to be disrespectful at all.”
Anderson hasn’t had much to apologize for lately.
He scored a career-high 16 points in the win over Boston College and, for the third straight game, showed signs of becoming the type of player Virginia coach Tony Bennett envisioned when he recruited him.
Anderson will try to keep it going Tuesday night when Virginia (14–5, 4–2) hosts 19th-ranked N.C. State (16–4, 5–2) in a key Atlantic Coast Conference clash.
“It’s going to be a tough, physical game,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to be ready to go into war. They have some really good individual players and I think they play collectively pretty well.
“We just need to be tough, and, as coach Bennett would say, ‘rugged.’ That’s my favorite word right now. That means you have to get down in the dirt. You have to do the dirty work in order to win these games.”
Anderson (6-foot-6, 226 pounds) arrived at Virginia with the size and strength to survive the physical rigors of college basketball.
Still, it took a while for him to adjust to the game, despite a standout career at Montrose Christian Academy in Rockville, Md. Anderson said he was being a “true servant” at the beginning of the year as he figured out his role on the team.
But Virginia senior point guard Jontel Evans said Anderson was easily distracted in practice. So he’s taken on a “big brother” role to get him to concentrate more.
“I have to watch after him in practice,” Evans said. “He has so much ability and talent, sometimes he tends to lack that focus. When he starts to lack that focus, I just see him and tell him, ‘Stay focused.’ That’s all I have to say.”
Anderson’s finally heeding Evans’ advice. Once Evans saw his style of leadership pay off against Boston College, he offered more encouragement.
“Right after the game Jontel came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to hold you accountable to keep being focused,’” Anderson said. “A lot of guys see how much fun I have on the court and I also have that same amount of fun off the court. I’m always trying to have fun.
“One time, Jontel pulled me aside in practice and said. ‘If you keep having these practices where you’re locked in and focused success is going to come from it.’”
Anderson didn’t experience much individual success earlier this season.
He was held scoreless three times. He produced six points or fewer six straight games before he connected on two 3-pointers and contributed eight in a win over Florida State on Jan. 19.
The breakthrough continued when he poured in 11 points and dished out a career-high six assists in a victory over Virginia Tech Thursday.
Anderson said his ability to drive and pass to open teammates helped create scoring opportunities against Boston College. He tallied 14 of his points in the second half as defenders laid off him in anticipation of a pass.
“I think the last couple of games, I’ve been able to drive and kick and hit open teammates for shots,” said Anderson, who is third on the team with 41 assists. “But I think now maybe that’s in the scouting reports and it opens up a little bit to get to the paint.”
Anderson’s coaches and teammates have noticed.
Bennett said the Boston College game was the most he’s seen Anderson around the lane and driving to the basket. Junior forward Akil Mitchell said he’s “proud of the way [Anderson’s] evolved and has stepped into his role.”
Bennett said Anderson “grew up” against the Eagles.
“He has that dynamic of athleticism, of explosiveness that makes plays for him,” Bennett said. “It was good to see that on display.”
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526