Jontel Evans' defensive aim is blessedly simple: Be a pest.
Hedges and switches? Slides and double-teams? Evans leaves the nuances to his coach,
The combination is blending perfectly this season, never more so than Saturday night, when Evans' boiler-plate attitude and Bennett's subtle strategy keyed
's 52-51 escape against
opener for both.
The victory was the 12th straight for the 21st-ranked Cavaliers, and it came against an opponent averaging 73.6 points, 87.5 in the previous four games.
"Jontel Evans' defense, I thought, was instrumental in controlling our offense," Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said. "We were not able to get inside of him very often."
Evans is a 5-foot-11 junior point guard who, at 188 pounds, hasn't lost the bulk that made him an outstanding tailback at Bethel High School. But Evans is also big-league quick, and his ability to stay in front of Durand Scott derailed Miami's attack.
Scott missed 8-of-12 shots as Miami finished with 35.3 percent accuracy and a season-low in points. No shock there. Only one of Virginia's 15 opponents, Seattle, has scored more than 60 points, and the Cavaliers (14-1) rank second nationally in scoring defense.
"We're a defensive team," Evans said. "That's what we hang out hat on."
Ya think? The Cavaliers' man-to-man, half-court defense allowed them to win on a night when they shot 38.2 percent and had only one double-figure scorer — power forward Mike Scott had a game-high 23 points on an array of post-ups, fadeaways and 15-foot jumpers.
Scott is headed for a first-team All-ACC season, and Miami's Kenny Kadji compared him favorably to
's Kevin Jones, who merely leads the
in scoring and rebounding.
"Mike Scott is a handful," Larranaga said. "His ability to score, both on the block and from the perimeter puts a lot of pressure on opponents' defenses, and it opens up a lot of things for their guard play."
Scott scored Virginia's final points on a spin move over Kadji with 50.8 seconds remaining. But Durand Scott countered with a driving layup on which he drew a foul from Evans and converted the 3-point play to draw Miami (9-5) within 52-51.
After the Cavaliers' Joe Harris missed the front end of a bonus free throw, Larranaga called timeout with 13.1 seconds left. When Durand Scott drove to his left, Evans was determined to learn from the previous possession.
"I was just trying to make it tough on him," Evans said. "I held my ground. I didn't reach, and I made him take a tough shot."
Larranaga said a slight change in Virginia's low-post defense helped Evans. Rather than shade toward the high side, the Cavaliers' interior defenders clogged the middle, forcing Durand Scott to dribble left, away from the basket, instead of to his preferred right and the lane.
"What I really wanted wasn't open," Scott said. "Credit Virginia for playing great defense."
His shot wasn't close, and in the rebound scramble, the Cavaliers' Sammy Zeglinski forced a held ball as time expired.
"Just wanted to be a pest like I always am," Evans said.
"That's the difference," Larranaga said. "One possession, one shot, one play, but there's so many of those throughout the game."
This was the ideal venue for Larranaga's first ACC game. He assisted Terry Holland at Virginia from 1979-86, a tenure that included the Cavaliers' 1980
championship and 1981 and '84 Final Fours.
Larranaga had returned to Charlottesville many times since, but only once to play the Cavaliers. That was in 1997, his second game as
's head coach, and his Patriots lost to Jeff Jones' Cavaliers 60-45.
Among Larranaga's co-workers on Holland's staff: Craig Littlepage, now Virginia's athletic director. In 2006, Littlepage chaired the
selection committee that famously awarded a controversial at-large bid to Larranaga's George Mason Patriots.
All Mason did was upset past champions Michigan State,
en route to the Final Four.
Miami and Virginia face similar challenges in their next games. The Hurricanes play at Carolina on Tuesday, the Cavaliers at
"I think there's better basketball in us," Bennett said.
Better is a must if Virginia is to win at Duke for the first time since 1995.