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NIT: Cavs try to rejuvenate momentum
CHARLOTTESVILLE—One year ago the Virginia and Norfolk State men’s basketball teams were in Omaha, Neb. for the NCAA tournament.
As the 15th seed, Norfolk State upset No. 2 Missouri in the first round. The Spartans would’ve played 10th-seeded Virginia in the second round, but the Cavaliers suffered a loss to Florida.
This season, Virginia went 1–3 in its final four games and was denied an NCAA tournament bid. The Spartans finished 16–0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference during the regular season, but lost in the tournament quarterfinals and failed to clinch another NCAA trip.
So Tuesday night at John Paul Jones Arena, the Cavaliers and Spartans met in the National Invitation Tournament.
Virginia started slowly, but eventually found its footing in an unaesthetic 67–56 victory.
Virginia, one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT, will host St. John’s in a second-round game.
The Cavaliers (22–11) couldn’t relax a bit against the Spartans (21–12) until junior forward Akil Mitchell was left wide-open for a crowd-pleasing dunk with 2:07 remaining to give them a 57-47 advantage.
Virginia built an 11-point second-half lead but had to hold on after the Spartans’ full-court pressure caused them problems.
Norfolk State pulled within three points at 47–44 after Malcolm Hawkins was able to corral his own miss and convert a layup.
Virginia didn’t help itself at the free throw line. The Cavaliers, who finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in foul shooting (71 percent), made just 22 of 37 against the Spartans.
Those numbers improved late in the game partly because Westmoreland County native Justin Anderson converted 6 of 6 attempts down the stretch.
Anderson tied for team-high scoring honors with 15. He scored six straight points, including a jumper to give his team a 55–47 lead, in a pivotal stretch late in the game.
Anderson’s point total is his highest since he tallied 17 in a win at Maryland on Feb. 10. His production was needed because Mitchell and leading scorer Joe Harris struggled much of the game.
Mitchell came alive in the second half after scoring just two points and committing four turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
He also made just two of his first eight free throw attempts.
His first-half performance was indicative of the way the Cavaliers began the game.
Norfolk State led 8–0 before Anderson scored the Cavaliers’ first basket.
The score triggered a 16–3 Virginia run. Freshman backup point guard Teven Jones gave the Cavaliers a boost with two first-half 3-pointers.
Jones finished the game with seven points, the most since he recorded 13 in a win over North Texas on Nov. 20.
After the Spartans pulled within 16–14 on two Hawkins free throws, Virginia went on a 10–2 burst to close the half and take a 26–16 lead into intermission.
The Spartans became the ninth team Virginia has held to less than 20 points in the first half this season. Norfolk State shot just 18 percent in the first half and converted just one field goal in the final 11:43.
It was the type of defensive effort Virginia lacked in its 75–56 loss to N.C. State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals on Friday to derail its NCAA hopes.
Norfolk State appeared on its way to turning around its offensive struggles early in the second half when leading scorer Pendarvis Williams (14.2 points per game) came alive with two 3-pointers in a short span.
Williams helped cut the Spartans’ deficit to 26–22, but the Cavaliers responded with a 9–2 run to increase their advantage to 11.
The Cavaliers aren’t known as a fast-paced team, but the contest crawled along even by their standards in the second half as officials called 13 fouls in the first 6:50.
The Spartans were hit hardest as starting center Brandon Goode collected his fourth foul with 13:50 remaining.
In addition to Anderson and Mitchell’s 15-point performances, Harris scored 12. The Spartans were paced by Rob Johnson’s game-high 19 points. Williams added 16.
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