Virginia edges Tennessee in defensive struggle

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia never trailed but had to withstand a couple of second-half rallies to beat Tennessee 46-38 in a nonconference matchup Wednesday night.
It was an ugly offensive game, as Virginia shot just 35.8 percent (19-for-53) from the floor while Tennessee shot just 28.8 percent (15-for-52). The teams combined to make four of 27 3-point attempts.
"Those are two good defensive teams," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "Baskets weren't easy to come by, and it was physical. We're trying to just play tough possession basketball. We left some buckets out there on the table."
The Cavaliers (7-2) won their sixth game in a row.
While Tennessee (4-3) never came within one possession of Virginia, the Volunteers made the Cavaliers sweat. Tennessee twice cut the lead to four points in the second half.
"I thought our effort and our defense kept us in the game," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We've just got to find a way to put the ball in the basket."
Tennessee's leading scorer, Jarnell Stokes, put back a Skylar McBee miss to make it 42-38 with 37 seconds to play.
Virginia redshirt freshman point guard Teven Jones hit two free throws in a one-and-one situation to push the lead back to six with 32 seconds remaining.
Kenny Hall missed a 3-pointer on Tennessee's next possession, and Virginia guard Paul Jesperson made two more free throws to seal the win.
Virginia was led by Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, who each had 13 points. Mitchell added 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
"I feel like we've grown up a lot," Mitchell said. "We've matured. We've found our identity. We know what works."
The Volunteers were coming off a 37-36 loss at Georgetown on Friday. Tennessee's 36 points represented the school's second-lowest total in the shot-clock era, and the Volunteers continued to struggle offensively during the first half Wednesday night.
"It's tough as a coach because what happens, you work on shooting, guys come in three times a week in the morning to get shots up," Martin said. "You work on shooting in practice. It's just one of those deals you've got to shoot the ball with confidence. We've also got to find better ways to get the ball inside to Jarnell."
Stokes was held to five points, eight below his average, and he attempted just five shots. Virginia double-teamed Stokes in the post on a consistent basis, utilizing Mitchell and Darion Atkins.
"Stokes, he's so physical, and he's such a presence," Bennett said. "Our guys used their activity and their quickness to bother him. We tried to trap him. I think we did an OK job."
Point guard Trae Golden was the only Volunteer to score in double figures, finishing with 11 points.
Tennessee cut the lead to four early in the second half on Skylar McBee 3-pointer to make it 25-21, but Virginia responded with an 11-0 run over the next four minutes to push the lead back to 15.
Point guard Jontel Evans got the run started with two uncontested layups on consecutive possessions. The streak ended when Evans caught the Tennessee defense sleeping underneath out-of-bounds play, and he hit Harris for a layup with 14:07 to play.
Evans, who made his first start of the season Wednesday, had to leave the game midway through the second half after aggravating a right foot injury. He had offseason foot surgery and missed five games earlier this season. Bennett said Evans would undergo X-rays to determine the severity of the injury.
Virginia led Tennessee 25-16 at halftime. As a team, Virginia shot 39.3 percent (11-for-28) from the floor. The Cavaliers had seven assists on their 11 made field goals.
Tennessee scored just six points in the first 14:51 of the game as Virginia opened up a 15-point lead. The Volunteers made just three of their first 18 shot attempts.
Tennessee shot 32 percent (8-for-25) during the opening half, in which they had nine turnovers.
Neither team made a 3-point basket before the break. Tennessee missed all eight of its attempts, while Virginia was 0-for-4.
Virginia improved to 8-4 in the teams' series. Tennessee won the previous meeting, beating the Cavaliers 77-74 in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.

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