By David Teel
1:43 PM PST, January 30, 2013
Mike Tobey first entered Tuesday’s game against North Carolina State with 15:09 remaining in the first half. Within moments, Virginia’s 6-foot-11 freshman was a factor.
On the Cavaliers’ third subsequent possession, the right-handed Tobey made a left-handed hook from the left baseline over All-ACC forward C.J. Leslie. Three-plus minutes later, by wisely extending his arms and playing sound position defense, he forced 6-foot-8 Richard Howell into an air ball.
When Virginia’s Paul Jesperson missed a 3-pointer at the other end, Tobey outmuscled Howell for the rebound and scored on a stickback. Maybe the 227-pound Tobey surprised the 257-pound Howell on the play. Or maybe he had leverage. Because in a Tobey-Howell arm-wrestling match, my cash is on the senior.
Late in the first half Tobey had another excellent sequence on defense. First, he blocked a Leslie shot. Then, his towering presence forced Leslie into a shot-clock violation.
Early in the second half, Tobey caught a thread-the-needle bounce pass from Akil Mitchell, absorbed a Rodney Purvis foul, dunked and made the ensuing free throw.
With the Wolfpack leading 37-34, Tobey made another lefty shot, this one over T.J. Warren and followed with a jumper from the right elbow, the latter giving the Cavaliers their first lead.
Tobey finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes as Virginia extended its winning streak to four with a 58-55 victory. Those are well above his season norms of 6.4 points, 2.3 rebounds.
As he has done to many other defenders during his career, Leslie schooled Tobey more than once. He angled underneath Tobey on a drive, drew contact and converted the old-fashioned 3-point play; also, Howell lost Tobey with a crossover dribble to score on a drive.
I first saw Tobey in April 2011. He was a high school junior from Monroe, N.Y., playing in Boo Williams’ annual Hampton tournament for the Bronx-based Gauchos. His fundamental skills were apparent, and as Comrade Fairbank wrote at the time, his game had “a city edge that many suburban kids don't possess.”
With starting forward Darion Atkins still hobbled -- he played six minutes Tuesday before his shin injury flared – Virginia (15-5, 5-2 ACC) needs Tobey more than ever. Virginia coach Tony Bennett is bullish on Tobey short- and long-term.
In the Cavaliers' last three games, Tobey has contributed 31 points and 13 rebounds, all while averaging a modest 18 minutes.
“He's playing a little more rugged,” Bennett said. “Even if you're not the same size or weight [as an opposing player], it's still about what you got inside and will you engage and lock up with some of those guys, and he's being more aggressive that way, and that's part of a learning process.
“The weight will come, the strength will come, that will be natural, but I like that he's engaging a little more, and he's got some length, and he's not unathletic, so I think that helps.”
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