CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) — Virginia coach Tony Bennett is a big believer that the easiest way to have success is to do things the right way.
The Cavaliers got to see their coach’s message ring true in a 75-53 victory against Liberty on Saturday afternoon.
Overcoming a sluggish first half, the Cavaliers used a 20-0 second-half run to put the game away.
“First half, we were impatient,” Bennett said. “Second half, much more patient, rotated the ball, went high post or inside and out, guys got shots and they were much more effective, and it helped our defense.”
Anthony Gill scored 13 points, Malcolm Brogdon had 12 and Bennett was able to empty his bench, bringing fan favorite Thomas Rogers in to make a technical foul free throw, and later a 3-pointer. But it was the decisive run that made it happen.
“In the first half, we weren’t really playing as a team, we weren’t really getting into them on defense like we need to,” Gill, the transfers from South Carolina who is still learning to play defense the way Bennett insists he must to get on the floor.
Bennett’s halftime message hit home, too, because the Cavaliers were letting an inferior team hang around.
“It’s all on us,” Gill said. “If we’re not blowing them out, it’s because we’re not doing something right.”
Virginia (4-1), who started the game ranked second nationally in scoring defense at 49.8 points, and had held the Flames to eight points in the first 14 minutes of the second half before liberal substitutions inflated their scoring total.
Flames coach Dale Layer wasn’t fooled.
“It’s the deepest team they’ve ever had as far as I can remember,” he said. “I think they know their roles. They can make shots. They score inside and out. Their defense is very good. … When they make shots like that, and score inside and out, and the way they rebound, they make it a very difficult time for anyone coming into John Paul Jones Arena.”
Virginia shot 48.4 percent to the Flames 38.6 percent, and out-rebounded Liberty 35-28. The Cavaliers also forced 19 turnovers and turned them into 33 points while the Flames managed just a dozen points of Virginia’s nine turnovers.
Davon Marshall led the Flames with 15 points and Antwan Burrus had 12. The loss was the fourth in a row for Liberty (1-4), an NCCA tournament team last season which gained its only victory of this season against Division III Randolph.
John Caleb Sanders’ 3-pointer pulled the Flames within 40-31 with 14:28 to play, but Joe Harris’ tip-in started the Cavaliers’ big run. Akil Mitchell followed with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer and, before it was over, London Perrantes and Evan Nolte added 3s for the Cavaliers, pushing the lead to 60-31.
Sanders finally ended a nearly 8½-minute scoreless drought with another 3 with 6 minutes to play.
Rogers, a former walk-on granted a scholarship this year, drew huge applause when he hit one of two free throws after a technical on the Liberty bench, and later made a 3-pointer, giving the crowd of 10,941 its biggest cause to cheer of the day.