ATLANTA — Tony Bennett was fretting a bit after Virginia had a sluggish practice right before its game against Georgia Tech.
“I wasn’t sure if we were feeling the weight of expectations,” the Cavaliers coach said.
No need to worry.
Mike Scott scored 18 points and the 15th-ranked Cavaliers bounced back from a tough loss at Duke, blowing out Georgia Tech 70-38 on Thursday night for their biggest win over an Atlantic Coast conference opponent in more than two decades.
The Cavaliers (15-2, 2-1) were never seriously challenged by the Yellow Jackets, who put up their lowest-scoring game since a 53-38 loss to Wake Forest on Feb. 6, 1982, during Bobby Cremins’ first season as coach.
“We caught them on an off night, and we were right,” Bennett said. “I didn’t expect it to be like this, but I’ll certainly take it and hope we can keep building on it.”
Virginia was coming off a 61-58 defeat at Cameron Indoor Stadium that snapped a 12-game winning streak. The Cavs wasted no time getting started on a new streak, taking advantage of a team that doesn’t have a true home arena – Georgia Tech is playing at Philips Arena while its campus facility undergoes a major renovation – nor much ACC-level talent.
Kammeon Holsey, with 12 points, was the only player in double figures for Georgia Tech (8-10, 1-3), which shot only 29 percent (14 of 48) from the field, was 1 of 15 from 3-point range and was outrebounded, 45-22.
“Obviously we knew we would have some difficulty at times making baskets,” first-year coach Brian Gregory said. “Our margin of error is very small. We almost have to make every open shot we get.”
Virginia did have a setback late in the first half when senior center Assane Sene collided with Mfon Udofia slicing toward the hoop. Udofia drew a foul on Sene, who sprained his right ankle and had to be helped to the locker room, his arms draped over two trainers. He was on crutches after the game and it’s not known how long he might be out.
Virginia is off to its best start since beginning 15-2 in 1982-83. This was its largest margin against an ACC opponent since a 104-72 victory over North Carolina State on Jan. 29, 1991.
“Whenever you go on the road in the ACC and get a win, it’s great,” said guard Sammy Zeglinski, who scored 10 points. “Having a week to prepare to play against Georgia Tech and coming off a loss against Duke, we were ready to compete.”
The Cavaliers held Georgia Tech to only two points during a span of nearly 6 minutes in the first half, a stretch that essentially decided the game. The Yellow Jackets made 1 of 7 shots during that drought and never got the margin below double figures the rest of the way.
Led by Joe Harris’ 11 points, the Cavaliers went to the locker room in total control, up 35-17. They held Georgia Tech to 8 of 26 shooting (31 percent), outrebounded the Yellow Jackets 23-12 and turned it over only once.
Virginia kept it up in the second half, going 28 of 58 (48 percent) from the field. Harris finished with 16 points, while Jontel Evans gave Georgia Tech fits with his quickness and ability to penetrate.
“We couldn’t keep him in front of us,” Gregory moaned.
The coach wasn’t so peeved about all the missed shots. He was more concerned about the lack of effort and clearly let that be known to his players.
“They just attacked us and we weren’t ready for it,” center Daniel Miller said. “They were tougher than us.”
The Cavaliers have taken command of the rivalry, winning five in a row over the Yellow Jackets and six of the past seven. This trip also provided Virginia with a chance to get an advance look at Philips Arena, the home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and site of this year’s ACC Tournament.
The Yellow Jackets lost for the sixth time in seven games, including four in a row in Atlanta. They have failed to reach 60 points four times during that slide, which has sent them tumbling toward a second consecutive losing season. That was largely the expectation when Gregory took over as coach from Paul Hewitt, who was fired after going 13-18 last season and didn’t leave behind much hope for a quick turnaround.
“When you’re trying to rebuild a program and do some things, unfortunately there’s going to be some nights like this,” Gregory said. “As a competitor, it ticks you off. But we’ve got to bounce back.”