CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)—Virginia is getting close to opening its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, and the way the Cavaliers played Friday night against winless Towson certainly won’t help them once ACC competition begins.
Despite shooting poorly and allowing Towson to battle them almost evenly on the boards, the No. 23 Cavs made just enough big plays down the stretch for a 57-50 victory.
Sammy Zeglinski scored 20 points and Joe Harris added 17 to help the Cavaliers survive a scare from the Colonial Athletic Association school—but not until the final minute.
“If we play like this in conference play, no, we’re not ready for the conference,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “That’s pretty obvious.
“The challenge for us is every time we have a performance like this, what do we have to do to improve? That’s our job as coaches and players to shore up those areas that are going to cost us.”
Virginia plays at LSU (10-3) on Monday before opening its ACC schedule at home on Saturday against Miami.
Mike Scott, Virginia’s leading scorer coming in at 17.1 points per game, was held to just seven as the Cavaliers (12-1) won their 10th straight game despite shooting just 34.8 percent (16 of 46) from the field.
“I think a lot of this is under our control,” said Zeglinski, who was 4 of 8 from behind the arc. “We’ve got to sharpen up offensively. Execute better and break teams down and limit them to one shot on the defensive end.
“I think we’re all excited to go to LSU and really test our team.”
Towson, one of the youngest teams in the nation, was led by freshman Kris Walden’s 15 points, while sophomore Marcus Damas added 13. The Tigers fell to 0-13 and extended their overall losing streak to 32 games dating to last season.
“With all of these new players, (defense is) something we’ve been trying to preach to them,” said Towson coach Pat Skerry. “If you guard and continue to guard, guard, guard, you are going to put yourself in position to win games. This is the first time we have done it for close to 40 minutes.”
Virginia’s biggest lead was nine points early in the second half, but Towson pulled to 46-43 with a little over 3 minutes left before halftime.
A 3-pointer from the left corner by freshman Malcolm Brogdon finally gave the Cavaliers some breathing room and a 52-45 lead with 46 seconds to go. Virginia made five of six free throws in the final 26 seconds to ice it.
“Maybe we might have overlooked Towson a little bit,” said Harris. “Looking at their record, they hadn’t won a game. Maybe we thought we were going to come out with an easy win. You can’t underestimate anybody, no matter what their record shows. You’ve got to treat every team the same.”
Despite their winless record, the Tigers managed to stay with the Cavaliers for most of the opening half, thanks in part to the atrocious shooting of Virginia.
The Cavaliers made only 28.6 percent (8 of 28) of their shots, but Towson wasn’t much better at 30 percent (6 of 20).
The Tigers took an early 10-2 advantage behind freshman point Walden, who had 10 of his points in the first half.
After hitting four of its first seven shots, Towson connected on just two of its final 13 in the half. A 13-1 run by Virginia put the Cavaliers on top 15-11 before the Tigers clawed back to tie it at 16 on a 3-pointer by Walden 2:26 before the break.
Virginia scored the final eight points of the half, including a 3-pointer by Harris just before the horn, to take a 24-16 lead into intermission.