CHARLOTTESVILLE — In 2002, Juan Dixon led Maryland to a come-from-behind win over Virginia, as his Terrapins erased a double-digit deficit in the final 3 minutes. Dixon’s one-handed runner with 31 seconds to go proved to be the winning basket in a year that Maryland went on to win the national championship.
Friday night, Dixon — now in his fifth year coaching Coppin State — found his team trailing again. This time, there was no stirring comeback.
Virginia (2-2) jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, blitzing the Eagles 68-52.
“We had our opportunities and we just let them slip,” said Dixon. “And good teams, like UVa, they’ll make you pay. And they did.”
Forward Jayden Gardner scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to record his second double-double of the season, shaking off an ineffective outing last game against Houston to lead four Cavaliers in double digits.
Sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick posted the first double-double of his career, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He also blocked three shots as Coppin State struggled all night with UVa’s superior size and athleticism in the paint.
“It’s a real tough matchup,” said Dixon. “Definitely have two guys that you can build your team around. I’d love to have that kind of frontcourt.”
Senior Kihei Clark scored 12 and freshman Igor Milicic Jr. added a career-high 11 for Virginia.
It was a welcome get-right kind of night for the Cavaliers, who lost their season opener to Navy on Nov. 9 and got drilled 67-47 at No. 15 Houston on Tuesday.
“We played Houston, obviously, it was very challenging,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “In a lot of ways, it was what we needed to be exposed and now go to work.”
A more capable opponent might have sunk UVa to its first 1-3 start to a season since 1969, but Coppin State was clearly overmatched from the opening tipoff.
Virginia scored the first eight points of the game, prompting Dixon to call timeout just 2:32 into the contest.
It jumped out to a 23-6 lead, giving a number of reserves plenty of first-half playing time.
Milicic Jr. saw his first extended playing time of the young season, entering the game with 10:14 to go in the first half and promptly scoring a pair of baskets, hitting a 3-pointer and then a pull-up jumper that ballooned UVa’s lead to 21-6 with 9:25 to go before the break.
“It’s a big adjustment period,” said Milicic Jr., who came to the U.S. from Croatia. “I still think that I’m not even close to where I have to be. It is what it is. I just have to keep working and get better. It’s a big adjustment, coming from Europe to here.”
Coppin State cut its deficit to 30-20 on a step-back 3-pointer by guard Jesse Zazuela with 3:38 to go in the half, but that was as close Dixon’s visitors would get Friday night. Virginia led 35-20 at halftime.
The first half could have been even more lopsided if not for eight turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play by Virginia, which averaged an uncharacteristic 13.7 entering the night.
The Cavaliers cut that down in the second, turning it over just three times and leading by 21.
“It was definitely a point of emphasis,” said UVa freshman Malachi Poindexter. “We know you can’t win a game with having a lot of turnovers. So we had to eliminate that.”
The Cavaliers used a 10-0 run, fueled by Gardner’s rugged inside play, to push the lead to 58-38 with 6 minutes left.
For the second straight game, UVa struggled from the 3-point line. After going 4 for 19 from beyond the arc at Houston, it was just 5 for 18 from distance against the Eagles.
Still, despite the early turnovers and the lack of perimeter punch, Coppin State was no match for Virginia.
The Cavaliers figure to encounter stiffer competition next week in Newark, New Jersey, when they play in the Legends Classic. They open against Georgia (2-1), out of the SEC, on Monday night, then face either Providence (4-0), from the Big East, or Northwestern (4-0), a Big Ten team, on Tuesday.