COLUMBUS, Ohio - Flat on his back after a hard foul, J.R. Reynolds figured he might as well give it a shot.
Why not? Everything else was going in.
The high-scoring guard with a balky hip made shots from everywhere on the court Friday — including a just-for-fun fling from his back — while leading Virginia to an 84-57 victory over Albany in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“When you get it going like that ...” Reynolds said sheepishly, referring to his on-the-back bank shot. “That was a tough shot.”
Everything came easy for the Cavaliers (21-10), who advanced in the South Regional with their first tournament win since 1995, when they reached the final eight, and will play Tennessee on Sunday. It was their most lopsided win in 37 NCAA tournament games.
They also answered their biggest question for March: Could half of a dangerous guard tandem deliver when it matters most?
Ignoring his sore hip, Reynolds responded with 28 points over a defense that had no chance once he got the ball in his hands. His most impressive shot didn’t even count.
The senior went down hard after he was fouled while driving to the basket with 4:21 left in the first half and the game already well in hand. About 10 feet from the hoop, he decided to let one fly for fun and banked it in cleanly.
Albany (23-10) had never seen anything like it.
“I thought that Virginia played as well as they could play,” Albany coach Will Brown said. “Their guards were terrific, as good as advertised.”
Reynolds (17.8 points per game) and point guard Sean Singletary (18.9 per game) form one of the nation’s most prolific backcourts. Lately, things haven’t been so smooth. A sore hip knocked Reynolds out of his shooting rhythm as the season wound down, and threw the Cavaliers for a loop, too.
In his last three games, Reynolds went 3-of-15, 3-of-14 and 3-of-15 from the field. No coincidence that Virginia lost two of the three, leaving the Cavaliers unsure what to expect in the tournament.
Reynolds got his shot back in sync during practice leading up to the tournament, and stayed in form even when he got knocked around.
The first time he was in position to shoot, he took a baseline jumper that cleared a defender’s hand and swished, making the Cavaliers feel a whole lot better about their chances.
His next three shots were 3-pointers — two of them rattled and went down — followed by a driving bank shot. Another long 3, a driving left-handed layup, a short jumper ... he was on a roll.
“That really gets our energy going,” Singletary said. “When a guy’s going like that, there’s no option but to keep going to him and ride the hot hand as long as you can.”
They rode the momentum all game. The Cavaliers pulled ahead 19-2 and were never seriously threatened by the Great Danes.
“No matter who you’re playing, when you look up and you’re down 20, it’s a little bit of a shock,” said Albany forward Brent Wilson, who had 13 points.
Virginia wasn’t a one-man show. Singletary added 23 points and nine assists, marking the fourth time this season that both guards topped 20 points in a game. And the Cavaliers’ collective defense dismantled an Albany team that brought a little swagger into its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
The America East Conference champs gained distinction last year, when they made the tournament for the first time and, as a No. 16 seed, took mighty UConn to the limit. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun was so impressed that he later embraced Brown and told him: “You guys are special.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Wilson missed five of his first six shots, allowing Virginia to take control. He finished with 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
“We’ve been eating and sleeping (thinking about) the Virginia Cavaliers,” Wilson said. “The fact of the matter is, they took us out of our game.”
And sent them home with a lot of clean clothes.
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