Teel Time: Loss to ODU another reminder of how valuable Jontel Evans is to Virginia

Virginia CavaliersOld Dominion MonarchsAtlantic Coast ConferenceMorgan State UniversityPoliticsTony Bennett

Virginia should have beaten Old Dominion on Saturday, Jontel Evans’ absence notwithstanding. The Monarchs were 1-10, had lost nine straight and were without two of their top six players due to injury and illness.

An opponent that weak and compromised should be no match for any ACC team.

That said, ODU’s 63-61 victory in the inaugural Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic at Richmond Coliseum provided another reminder of how valuable Evans, a senior point guard from Bethel High, is to the Cavaliers.

Evans had surgery Oct. 2 to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. He’s missed eight of the Cavaliers’ 12 games, and played a scant three minutes in another. Saturday marked Evans’ third consecutive absence since he reinjured the foot against Tennessee.

An All-ACC defensive team selection last season, Evans is most missed on that end of the floor. His dogged ball pressure on the perimeter and ability to keep opposing guards out of the lane can’t be replaced.

The four best shooting performances this season against Virginia are George Mason’s 54.5 percent, Morgan State’s 46.7, Delaware’s 42.6 and ODU’s 38.5. Evans’ only action in those four contests was three minutes versus Delaware.

The 9-3 Cavaliers lost three of the four games, prevailing only against Morgan State, that thanks to a plus-18 rebounding advantage.

In the three games that Evans played at least 15 minutes, Wisconsin shot 38.2 percent, Green Bay 34.0 and Tennessee 28.8.

Entering Saturday’s game, ODU was shooting 27.2 percent from beyond the arc. The Monarchs made 9-of-23 against the Cavaliers for 37.1 percent.

With Virginia leading 34-26 early in the second half, ODU guard Dimitri Batten, a sophomore from Kecoughtan High, made two 3-pointers and a floater in the lane within 76 seconds to tie the score. His next bucket, a left-wing three, gave the Monarchs a lead they would never relinquish.

Batten finished with a career-high 23 points, more than triple his 7.5 average. Teammate Aaron Bacote, a freshman from Bethel, added 17, more than double his 7.2 average.

Suffice to say, Evans would have made those points far more difficult to come by. As you would expect for freshmen, neither Teven Jones nor Taylor Barnette approaches Evans’ defensive ability. They don’t have Evans’ combination of strength and quickness to penetrate on offense, either.

“We’re being very conservative with him,” coach Tony Bennett said when asked about Evans’ status. “Whether it’s Jontel or not, again, it makes a difference with pressure to keep guys in front of you and guys out of the lane. We have to do a better job of that. Also to get into the lane off the dribble and put pressure on the defense. Those two areas were lacking.”

Virginia does not play until Dec. 30 against Wofford and then has another week off before hosting North Carolina in its ACC opener.

Prudence likely dictates sitting Evans against Wofford (6-6), but as ODU proved, there are few if any sure things for the Cavaliers. Besides, Wofford won at Xavier on Saturday for its fourth victory in five games.

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including Sunday’s from the Governor’s Classic.

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