CHARLOTTESVILLE — His knees ache a little after 34 college games, and he's certain he'll feel like the sage basketball veteran on campus whenever he goes back to workout at his old high school, but Justin Anderson is also sure he has a lot more left in him this season as long as Virginia keeps winning.
U.Va. will host No. 3 seed Iowa (23-12) 7 p.m. Wednesday with a trip to New York City to play in the NIT semifinals on the line.
- VIDEO: Virginia coach Tony Bennett talks about freshmen contributions and staying motivated in NIT
- VIDEO: Justin Anderson discusses contributions of Virginia's freshman class
- VIDEO: Virginia's Akil Mitchell amends statements he made about having tough time getting motivated for NIT
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John Paul Jones Arena, 295 Massie Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903
A freshman quartet of Anderson, Taylor Barnette, Teven Jones and Mike Tobey combined to score 46 points against No. 5 seed St. John's (17-16). Anderson led the way with a career-high 18 points in a starting role, while the other 28 freshman points came via bench contributions, including a career-best 13 points from Barnette and 10 points from Tobey.
"Being a freshman, you're just happy to play basketball," said Anderson, who helped U.Va. (23-11) extend its home winning streak to a John Paul Jones Arena-record 19 straight games. "You're happy to keep living your freshman season. I don't want it to be over, because I'm getting old. Well — not really, but I don't want it to get old. I want to keep playing as long as I can."
U.Va., which is one of three No. 1 seeds remaining in the tournament, got its first 11 points and 24 of its first 32 points from freshmen.
"I thought the (freshmen) really gave us a lift and played very good basketball," said U.Va. coach Tony Bennett, whose team outscored St. John's 28-8 in points off the bench, including all 28 of the Cavaliers' bench points coming from freshmen. "That was pivotal. We made some good decisions, obviously shot it well enough from the (free-throw) line — just did some nice things."
Free-throw shooting was actually one of U.Va.'s weak spots again. It shot 54.5 percent from the floor, but just 62.5 percent on free-throw attempts — its fourth consecutive game where it shot 65.2 percent or worse from the free-throw line. None of the free-throw shooting issues seemed to rub off on Anderson, who made 9 of his 10 attempts.
Despite big efforts from the young players, U.Va. missed six of its first seven shots from the floor and fell behind 8-4. U.Va. answered with a 20-3 run started by a 3-pointer from Jones, and capped by 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions by Barnette that put U.Va. up 24-11 with 5:46 left in the first half.
"Coach doesn't really say, 'Let it fly,' but he trusts me to shoot the ball," said Barnette, who was 5 of 7 shooting from the floor, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. "I think that I've tried to improve myself as much as I can to shoot when I'm open."
The freshmen helped offset a rough day for junior guard Joe Harris, who had just seven points on 2 of 7 shooting from the floor. In his last six games, he's made just 23 of 71 shots (32.4 percent).
St. John's, which was led by Phil Greene's 18 points, shot 33.9 percent from the floor and never cut U.Va.'s lead under seven points after the Cavaliers' big run. Yet, the Red Storm managed to keep the game from getting out of reach until late.
With U.Va. up 47-37, Anderson was involved in a brief incident with 8:47 left when he was checking into the game. St. John's forward Chris Obekpa looked like he purposely bumped into Anderson, who appeared to flop to the floor as the crowd voiced its dissatisfaction at Obekpa.
No foul was called, and Anderson denied he added a little drama to the moment with his reaction to Obekpa. U.Va. still responded to the incident with a 7-0 run in the next minute, 45 seconds, increasing the Cavaliers' cushion to 54-37.
"I told Tony I think they're an NCAA tournament team," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "We played a number of tournament teams in the Big East, and beat some tournament teams. I think Virginia is tournament worthy, and I think they could have won a couple games in the tournament."