After Tuesday night's upset of No. 19 N.C. State, Virginia senior guard Jontel Evans had plenty of praise his freshman center.
"Mike Tobey. Oh my God, he grew up tonight," Evans said in a postgame interview. "He definitely grew up tonight. He battled with the big boys, and that's one of the most physical front courts in the whole conference. And he didn't back down at all. So I tip my hat off to him."
Tobey came off the bench to give Virginia 13 points, seven rebounds, and a pair of blocks in 20 minutes, helping the Cavaliers beat the Wolfpack 58-55 for their fourth straight win.
"He's playing a little more rugged," coach Tony Bennett said. "Even if you're not the same size or weight, it's still about what you've got inside, and will you engage and lock up with some of those guys. And he's being more aggressive that way."
"When Tobey's playing well, it takes a lot of pressure off me," junior forward Akil Mitchell, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, said. "It takes a lot of pressure off Joe and Jontel. Because he gives that extra dimension inside. When he's grabbing offensive rebounds and getting put-backs and stuff, that just helps the whole team out. And when he's playing well -- when anybody's playing well -- we all kind of feed off that."
Tobey is part of a trio of first-year Cavaliers who have stepped up their games in recent weeks, helping Virginia enter Wednesday night's schedule alone in second place in the ACC at 5-2.
During Virginia's current four-game winning streak, Tobey (8.3 ppg) and fellow freshmen Justin Anderson (9.3 ppg) and Evan Nolte (8.0 ppg) are each averaging at least eight points-per-game. And each player has at least one double-digit scoring performance in that span.
The emergence of the first-year players -- particularly Tobey and Nolte -- has coincided with the loss of sophomore forward Darion Atkins for most of the past four games because of a shin injury.
Junior Joe Harris, the Cavaliers' leading scorer, says the freshmen have improved "a ton" since the season tipped off.
"I feel like they're gradually all improving, every game," Harris said. "And you always see something new out of somebody, somebody stepping up. But they all contribute to this team."
Following Tuesday's win, Bennett said he no longer has concerns about having any of the three freshmen in late-game situations.
"They've shown that they can perform in those settings," Bennett explained. "They still have a ways to go to get better, as we all do. But I just think that they bring a different dimension. The three of them are mainly playing, but those three guys all bring something a little different."
"They're very comfortable," said Evans. "They're playing unbelievable basketball. They're the future. And Wahoo fans, they've got something to see for the next couple years. These guys are going to be really good."
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