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Virginia makes tournament case, wins 15th straight at home

The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia could ill-afford a slip-up against Georgia Tech Sunday as it tries to build an NCAA Tournament resume, and the Cavaliers delivered, beating the Yellow Jackets 82-54 for their 15th consecutive home win.

Virginia (19-8, 9-5 ACC) lost the first meeting against Georgia Tech 66-60 back on Feb. 3, a game where the Cavaliers led by nine points at halftime before being outscored 38-23 in the second half to let a road win slip away.

The Cavaliers did not repeat their mistake at home, where they are now 16-1, and outscored Georgia Tech 41-25 in the second half to snap a two-game losing skid.

"We know what we need to do to pull away and what we need to do to win games," Virginia forward Akil Mitchell said. "I feel like we really committed to locking them down on the defensive end and getting good shots on offense."

Facing a 12-point halftime deficit, Georgia Tech (14-12, 4-10 ACC) used the 3-ball to get back in the game early in the second half. The Yellow Jackets made three shots from beyond the arc in the first 5:46 of the final period, the last of which from Robert Carter, Jr. that made the score 45-40 with 14:14 to play.

"We came out in the second half with a little more energy," Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. "I thought the first six minutes of that half and the first three minutes of the game was the only time we played at the level that you need to play at against Virginia."

Virginia answered with a 16-1 spurt that put the game away over the next 4:30 to push the lead to 20 with 9:44 remaining. Freshman Taylor Barnette capped the spurt with a pair of 3s on consecutive possessions that made the score 61-41.

From there, the Cavaliers returned to playing the kind of defense that has been a staple of Virginia coach Tony Bennett's tenure in Charlottesville, limiting Georgia Tech to 14 points in the final 14:16.

"I just thought we were on the edge with our transition defense and really buckling down in terms of getting them off the glass," Bennett said. "That was the main message at halftime is you're going to have to tighten it up even more."

Mitchell had 18 points on 8 of 9 shooting while pulling down eight rebounds to lead Virginia.

Mitchell struggled the past couple games, making just 6 of 17 from the field in games at North Carolina and Miami. He admitted to pressing a bit, especially considering he has been the only true post player available because of injuries to teammates.

"I feel like in the Carolina game, especially, I rushed it a few times," Mitchell said. "In the Miami game, I didn't let [the game] come to me as much as I could have. In the last few days in practice and [Sunday], I just let it come to me a little more."

Joe Harris had 15 points for the Cavaliers, and senior point guard Jontel Evans added 10 points, eight assists, and no turnovers.

For the game, the Cavaliers turned the ball over just five times compared to 17 for Georgia Tech.

"Our turnovers is the Achilles' heel for us," Gregory said. "It has been, and it's not just at the guard spot. It's with our big guys. They need to value the possession a little more."

Marcus Georges-Hunt had 12 points while Daniel Miller added 11 for the Yellow Jackets.

As a team, Georgia Tech shot 44 percent (22 of 50) from the field while Virginia shot 54.2 percent (32 of 59) from the field.

"I thought they were unselfish," Bennett said of his offense. "We talked about serving each other. The way they played, with only five turnovers and 15 assists, that makes usually for pretty good offense."

Virginia led 41-29 at halftime, despite coming out of the gates a little sluggish.

After trailing 7-2 early, Virginia went on a 12-0 run that began with a Paul Jesperson 3 with 16:51 left in the opening half and concluded with a Mitchell layup with 13:28 to go. From there, Georgia Tech never came closer than five points the rest of the half.

The Cavaliers shot 53.3 percent (16 of 30) in the opening period with nine assists compared to just two turnovers. Justin Anderson and Harris each had nine points to lead Virginia.

Georgia Tech actually shot 54.2 percent (13 of 24) in the first half, but the Yellow Jackets did not do well taking care of the ball with 10 turnovers and just two assists. Georges-Hunt had a team-high nine points in the first half.

NOTES: Virginia's 15-game home winning streak is the longest since the Cavaliers won 34 in a row from 1980-83. ... The Yellow Jackets are now 5-34 in ACC road games in the last five seasons. ... Virginia freshman center Mike Tobey saw his first action since Feb. 3 at Georgia Tech. Tobey missed the last five games with mononucleosis.

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