November 24, 2014

The last time Tennessee State played a top 10 team, it pulled off the upset.

That opponent wasn't a defending ACC champion.

A repeat effort Tuesday night at Virginia in the Barclays Center Classic seems entirely unlikely considering the eighth-ranked Cavaliers' dominant defensive play and the Tigers' inability thus far to hang with Division I programs.

Virginia (4-0) is off to its best start since opening 5-0 in 2007-08, the season before coach Tony Bennett took over. Matching that run, however, is likely of little concern to Bennett seeing as that club finished near the bottom of the ACC.

He sounds more focused on his team improving after a slow start in Friday's 59-42 win over George Washington. The Cavaliers trailed 26-22 at the break but held the Colonials to three field goals in the first 17 minutes of the second half.

"You can't expect to start a game with that kind of mindset offensively and be effective, or you're going to be in trouble, and we were," Bennett told the team's official website. "Again, (there were) some nice plays by guys, but that's not the basketball we're trying to attain, and we have to learn from that, or that'll be a problem."

Justin Anderson scored 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting, backcourt mate Malcolm Brogdon had 13, and Virginia scored 14 of the first 16 points of the second half to pull away.

Anderson, who started just five games for the Cavaliers a season ago, is leading the team with 16.0 points per game on 52.5 percent shooting with a 10-for-17 mark from 3-point range. The junior has at least shared the team lead in scoring in each game this season.

Brogdon (13.0 points per game) has remained consistent after leading last season's team at 12.7.

A season after holding opponents to 38.8 percent shooting and a Division I-low 55.7 points per game, Virginia is limiting opponents to 29.4 percent and 46.8 points. The Cavaliers have also averaged a 13.5-rebound advantage.

"That's just a glimpse of what we can achieve every night," said senior Darion Atkins, who added eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. "If we just bring that every single day, every single night, I think we're going to be a really good team this year. I think it's a really big statement that we played that well in the second half against a really good team."

Atkins has started the last two games and is averaging 8.0 points and 7.3 rebounds this season after managing 3.5 and 2.5 through his first three, and he brings yet another defensive dimension to the team.

"He really gets people thinking about their shots when they drive to the basket, because they know he can block shots," junior Anthony Gill said.

Virginia has won 32 straight regular-season home games against unranked opponents by a 68.5-48.9 average.

That includes two seasons' worth of ACC matchups, while Tennessee State (2-2) has earned its wins this season against NAIA schools. The Tigers' games against Division I opponents have resulted in losses by an average of 24.5 points, and they shot just 32.7 percent in Sunday's 78-46 loss at Vanderbilt.

The Tigers beat the last top 10 foe they faced, 72-68 at No. 9 Murray State on Feb. 9, 2012. Top scorer Jay Harris (13.5 points per game) was a freshman on that team.

Their four games against ranked opponents since then have resulted in losses.

The Cavaliers continue this event in Brooklyn with Friday's matchup against La Salle and the following night against either Rutgers or Vanderbilt.

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