CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Akil Mitchell has a new ally in his search for steady confidence: leadership.
The junior forward had career highs with 14 points and 16 rebounds Saturday, leading Virginia to an 83-43 romp over Seattle.
“Because of my role as a leader this year, I have to be confident,” Mitchell said. “In order for the team to be confident, I have to be confident and to lead them, I have to believe in myself first.”
Mitchell is averaging 11 rebounds through four games.
“When he understands that he can be a difference-maker on the glass, that’s huge,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said.
Freshman center Mike Tobey added 17 points and fellow freshmen Justin Anderson (11) and Evan Nolte (10) also scored in double figures. In all, the five freshmen in Bennett’s rotation combined for 50 points, and Mitchell said that made the lopsided victory more worthwhile.
“It was absolutely necessary for Mike to get going. He’s been struggling offensively, so for him to get going is huge and for the guys to understand that when we play our system right, this is what happens,” Mitchell said.
The Cavaliers (2-2) led 44-13 at halftime and cruised, allowing Bennett to give plenty of playing time to his freshman.
That included point guard Teven Jones, who made his college debut and scored four points and had one assist in 25 minutes. Jones missed the first game while serving a suspension for a violation of team rules and missed the last two with something akin to a pinched nerve, Bennett said.
“The energy was a lot better because when we didn’t have a point guard in there, the game was slowed down and it didn’t look as organized,” Jones said.
It helped that the game almost seemed more like a scrimmage long before halftime.
Seattle led 6-3, then it all went downhill as Virginia scored the next nine points. The rest of the half included runs of 11, 10 and nine points for the Cavaliers, who got scoring from eight players before intermission. Half of their 44 at the break came from freshman, led by Tobey with 10 and Nolte with eight.
The Redhawks (1-1), who won at John Paul Jones Arena two years ago, shot 20 percent in the first half (5 of 25) and only kept the game as close as it was because the Cavaliers had a tough time breaking their full-court press. Virginia had 19 turnovers, but Seattle turned them into just 10 points.
“From the beginning of the game, they played defense with a great amount of toughness, effort and energy,” Redhawks coach Cameron Dollar said. “They didn’t allow us to get into the paint and they contested shots. … They just brought the fight to us and were tougher.”
Deshaun Sunderhaus led the Redhawks with nine points and Sterling Carter and Chad Rasmussen each had eight.
Seattle, meantime, finished shooting 25.4 percent (15 of 59) and was outrebounded 41-29.
The game seemed likely to mark the return of point guard and captain Jontel Evans, who played three minutes in a loss to Delaware on Tuesday night, but Bennett said after the game that Evans experienced soreness in his surgically repaired right foot and doctors suggested slowing down his return.
The status of backup Malcolm Brogdon, who had surgery last March, remains unclear, Bennett said.