It didn't take long for No. 19 Virginia to feel the loss of 7-foot Assane Sene.
The Cavaliers played stout defense without their starting center on Sunday night, holding Virginia Tech to 47 points and 45 percent shooting. But they managed just 45 points in their first home loss of the season, and got a glimpse of the problems they'll face during the six weeks Sene is expected to miss following ankle surgery Friday.
The absence of their shot-blocking threat was felt at both ends of the floor, and coach Tony Bennett eventually switched to a four-guard lineup, looking for more speed on the perimeter defensively, and someone — anyone — who could score points.
Against the Hokies, 6-8 Akil Mitchell got the second start of his career, but managed just two points and one rebound in 25 minutes. He also twice lost track of Virginia Tech guard Jarell Eddie, who made back-to-back 3-pointers to beat the shot clock during a first-half Hokies run.
“We still have to adjust without Assane,” Bennett said. “We have to take a look at those things and look at our scoring drought so we can get to the line and create some offense.”
The Cavaliers host Boston College on Thursday night.
Sene averages only 4.9 points, but his presence makes it difficult for teams to double- and triple-team Mike Scott because Scott is an effective passer, and Sene is a huge target.
“It made a difference offensively and defensively,” Scott said of Sene's absence.
The problem against Virginia Tech was twofold: The Hokies played suffocating defense, especially on Scott, and when the Cavaliers got open looks from outside, they didn't convert.
Virginia shot a season-low 32.6 percent from the field. Sammy Zeglinski, who is recovering from the flu, was 0 for 7, including 0 for 6 on 3-point shots, where Virginia was just 1 of 14.
Point guard Jontel Evans was more assertive than normal, aggressively driving to the basket. He led the team with 12 field goal attempts, but he made just four and missed several times from in close — including once on a fast break after a steal at midcourt.
The Cavaliers also played 6-6 Joe Harris at power forward some, trying to get some scoring production from that spot, and he made 4 of 8 shots to share team scoring honors with 10 points.
“It was just one of those nights when the ball wasn't going down for us,” he said.
The Hokies scored just 18 points in the paint, but two big ones came when Dorenzo Hudson drove in for a baby hook with 1:11 remaining, extending the Hokies' lead to 44-41.
It was the kind of play that Sene's presence would have made tougher to execute.
“We miss him a lot,” said Evans, who has quick hands, but is just 5-11. “He's a great communicator. He really helps on the weak side, so it was tough playing without him.”
The Cavaliers have no choice, though, and after two defections from the team right before Christmas, Bennett has only eight able-bodied scholarship players still available.
“We are a little limited with our numbers,” he said. “We have to figure out what is best.”
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