CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Nigel Johnson got an early heads-up that Virginia was going to need his spark on Saturday.
The 16th-ranked Cavaliers, perhaps shaking off cobwebs after a 10-day break for exams, got off to a slow start against Davidson.
“Two minutes into the game one of my coaches was telling us, telling me ‘Just be ready. We’re going to need you early,'” Johnson said. “I could see that we got off to a slow start so I just wanted to go in there and get an energy boost going and get us on a run.”
Johnson did that, and more, scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half as the Cavaliers gathered themselves and beat Davidson 80-60.
“You see his speed and his burst and getting down the floor – a couple of steals,” coach Tony Bennett said. “I like what I saw from him and we needed it all.”
Devon Hall added a career-high 20 points and Kyle Guy scored 14 of his 19 in the second half for the Cavaliers (9-1), who were playing for the first time since losing 68-61 to No. 11 West Virginia on Dec. 5. The Cavaliers were 10 for 18 from 3-point range and committed just six turnovers.
The Wildcats (4-4), also playing for the first time in 11 days, got 20 points from Peyton Aldridge and 12 from Oskar Michelsen. They made only 8 of 26 3-point attempts and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 13 times leading to 15 points for Virginia.
Coach Bob McKillop said Virginia wore the Wildcats down, not only with their defense, but with a series of screens and curls to get players free on offense.
“Everyone talks about what great defenders they are in the gaps, and they are. They’re extraordinary,” McKillop said. “Their ball pressure … got deflections and forced us to dribble into the gaps.”
Davidson led 18-11 with 9 minutes left in the first half, but Guy hit a 3-pointer as Virginia started to shake off its rust. Guy’s basket sparked a 26-11 burst to end the half. Johnson scored 11 points in the run, and Hall hit two 3-pointers. The Cavaliers led 37-29 at halftime and by as many as 21 in the second half.
“This is a very dangerous team this year,” McKillop said. “They’ve always been dangerous, but particularly this year.”
DUNK YOU VERY MUCH
Johnson, who is 6 feet tall, got what he said was his sixth dunk as a collegian in the second half.
The play started when Davidson’s Jon Axel Gudmundsson stumbled while dribbling. Johnson scooped up the loose ball and drove in a lone.
“Hopefully that was a trend-setter,” Johnson said. “I love getting dunks. As soon as he fell and I got the steal, that was the first thing on my mind.”
Davidson: The Wildcats lead the nation by averaging 13.1 3-pointers, and when they hit four early, they led 14-6. But Virginia stiffened its defense and forced them to go late in the shot clock, leading to lower percentage attempts. That’s not as likely to happen in Atlantic 10 play.
Virginia: Hall’s steadily improved scoring has taken some of the pressure off Guy, the Cavaliers’ top scorer. When a player like Johnson also has a big game, their typically stout defense often wears teams down, leading to offensive impatience.
Davidson will face New Mexico State in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic on Friday night.
Virginia is at home against Savannah State, its next-to-last non-conference game, on Tuesday night.