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Malcolm Brogdon's 22 points, Justin Anderson's 15 lead Virginia past Belmont 79-67

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — The Belmont Bruins have been to the NCAA Tournament the last four seasons.

The way coach Rick Byrd's team is currently constructed, the Bruins may just extend that streak next year.

Led by junior guard Craig Bradshaw, the Ohio Valley Conference champions will return the core of their team next season after giving second-seeded Virginia all it could handle Friday before losing 79-67 in the round of 64.

"We don't have a post player that's older than a sophomore on our team," Byrd said. "We played all year long with guys making freshmen and young player mistakes, and we made a few tonight that Virginia didn't make because they're a little more experienced. ... But I'm excited about our team moving forward a whole lot."

Bradshaw gives the Bruins the big-play threat they need.

He knocked down five 3-pointers and had 25 points in the loss, willing his team back after falling behind by 14 early in the second half.

"He's fearless," Byrd said. "He loves situations like that, that he's in. Who he's playing against and the circumstances in the game matter not to him at all. I like him. He's just athletic enough and simply good enough to play against defenders from Virginia. And frankly we try hard but we don't get ACC level players very often, and he is that."

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said it wasn't until 27 seconds remained that he looked up at the scoreboard and breathed a sigh of relief — and even then he was a little nervous.

Belmont had clawed within 62-60 with 4:37 left behind consecutive 3-pointers by the feisty Bradshaw. But the Cavaliers outscored the Bruins 17-7 the rest of the way.

Bennett said the Cavaliers were forced to guard Belmont in "unconventional ways" because of how they stretched the defense with several 3-point bombs from NBA range.

At times, that led to some easy baskets and defensive breakdowns by Virginia, which came in with the nation's No. 1 scoring defense.

Malcolm Brogdon scored 22 points, Justin Anderson re-emerged as a scoring threat for Virginia. Anderson, who is recovering from a broken left pinky, had 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting and Anthony Gill added 16 points for the Cavaliers (30-3), who recorded consecutive 30-win seasons for the first time in school history.

"I knew we were going to have to make some plays, get some stops and make some free throws," Bennett said. "But you are never (comfortable) when you play a team like that that has big-play ability."

Virginia made plenty of plays in the final 4 1-2 minutes, including all 11 free throw attempts.

PHOTO: Belmont players react on the bench to a teammate's basket against Virginia during the first half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game in the Round of 64 in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Belmont players react on the bench to a teammate's basket against Virginia during the first half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game in the Round of 64 in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Like last year when Virginia avoided a historic upset and held on to beat 16th-seeded Coastal Carolina, the Cavaliers needed a late second-half push to set up a rematch with No. 7 seed Michigan State on Sunday in the East Region. The Spartans knocked Virginia out of the Sweet 16 in last year's tournament.

Anderson, playing with his pinky taped to his ring finger, scored for the first time since Feb. 7 against Louisville. He failed to score in two ACC Tournament games.

"It felt good to show everybody, in a game, that I'm fine," Anderson said.

Leading 62-60, Virginia's London Perrantes hit a jumper from just inside the 3-point arc to make it a two-possession game and Gill made two free throws to give the Cavaliers some breathing room. Gill then scored on a give-and-go layup from Perrantes and drew a foul to push the lead to nine.

Gill had 13 points in the second half.

"It was good for us to be in a game like that," Bennett said. "Our young men have been in a lot of games like that where we had to just outlast and stay in there and make some plays and even overcome some of our mistakes."


TIP-INS

Belmont: Fell to 0-7 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. ... Taylor Barnette had seven points on 3-of-9 shooting against his former team. Barnette transferred from Virginia after his freshman season in 2013.

Virginia: With the win, Virginia avenged an opening-round NCAA Tournament loss in this building to Georgia in 2008. ... Virginia did a better job of securing the ball than in recent games, committing only seven turnovers.

GREAT SHOOTING:

Virginia was 21 of 25 from the free throw line, while Belmont attempted just six free throws. Virginia's huge size advantage certainly played a role in that, and the Cavaliers were content to pound the ball inside on a regular basis.

UP NEXT

Belmont: Season is over.

Virginia: Faces No. 7 seed Michigan State on Sunday.

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