Virginia ends losing streak with victory over Panthers

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Carrying a two-game losing streak into their exam period, Virginia guard Joe Harris admitted that the week preceding Saturday’s game felt like it would never end.

For his coach Tony Bennett and the fans who witnessed the Cavaliers miss 14 of their first 16 shots against Northern Iowa (5-6) Saturday afternoon, there may have been some worry that the scoring would never start. Leaving a stable of sizeable frontcourt players on the bench much of the second half, though, Virginia (8-3) found success with a four-guard lineup that snapped the losing streak and pushed the Cavaliers to a 57-43 home win at John Paul Jones Arena.

Sophomore Justin Anderson helped Virginia shake off a lethargic start, finishing with a game-high 16 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots that spurred a pair of second-half runs. At 6-foot-6, the sophomore guard played power forward in a quicker Virginia lineup that countered a Northern Iowa attack that attempted to spread the court.

“Maybe your defense breaks down a little bit, but when you have Darion (Atkins) back there with five blocks, and you put Justin as a ‘4,’ that cleans up some mistakes you make. That’s huge,” Bennett said. “And when those turn into a transition bucket, that was very timely for us. Those were some timely, acrobatic blocks that we certainly capitalized on.”

The first of Anderson’s acrobatic blocks came at the 16:49 mark of the second half. Northern Iowa had just cut Virginia’s lead to 25-18 and were looking to draw closer when Malcolm Brogdon turned the ball over. Anderson swooped in, however, and swapped the layup attempt by Matt Bohannon, sparking a break that ended with a Harris 3-pointer on the other end.

The second Anderson block came with 3:42 left as he stalked Jeremy Morgan in the lane and leapt from behind to swat the ill-fated shot off the backboard. Then, leading the break, Anderson got the pass and drew a foul on a baseline drive that ended with Anderson converting one of two free throws to push Virginia’s lead to 49-37.

“Not that I don’t play with freedom in other lineups, but with four guards, it’s just four guards flying around all over the court,” Anderson said. “It’s hard for other teams to guard, and it’s fun when it’s working like that.”

Seth Tuttle led Northern Iowa with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Wes Washpun added nine points and five assists. The Panthers struggled, however, to mount a consistent scoring attack. Even with Virginia playing with a smaller lineup, Darion Atkins tied the record for a Virginia player in John Paul Jones Arena with five blocked shots.

Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said he felt fortunate to be down only five points at halftime, acknowledging that neither team had distinguished itself with its shooting up to that point.

“When they did throw it inside, our guys did a good job of doubling their bigs, and that put them a little off balance. I think it was a good adjustment on Tony’s part to go with four guards to be able to stretch the defense and make us defend a little differently.”

Both teams misfired early and often, but the Cavaliers, with its adjusted lineup, took control early in the second half.

The Panthers had to call a timeout only 2:20 into the second half after an Atkins dunk and a London Perrantes jumper pushed Virginia to a 25-16 lead.

For the Cavaliers, that helped erase the bad taste of a sloppy first half that featured eight turnovers, but only two in the second half.

The Cavaliers scored only one basket in the first 6:48 of the game and yet never trailed.

As much as Virginia struggled to score, Northern Iowa matched their misses, failing to score until Tuttle converted on a drive at the 15:41 mark.