As No. 24 Virginia entered the season with the program's highest expectations in coach Tony Bennett's tenure, no one was as eager to get started Friday night as a pair of redshirt sophomores who sat on the sidelines a year ago waiting their turn.
Point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who missed last season following foot surgery, and forward Anthony Gill, making his Cavaliers debut after transferring from South Carolina, didn't hesitate in their return to the court while fueling a 61-41 win over James Madison.
Brogdon set the tone, hitting the first of his three first-half 3-pointers on Virginia's opening possession, and the Cavaliers never trailed. Nine players scored for Virginia, led by the 6-foot-8 Gill, who went 5 for 5 from the field for a game-high 13 points.
On a night when the Cavaliers' returning first-team all-ACC player, senior guard Joe Harris, scored only five points on six shots, Brogdon had nine points and six rebounds in his first game since Feb. 25, 2012.
"I'm just glad I made it," Brogdon said of his game-opening shot. "It was a relief to see it go through the net. It's my first shot since my freshman year. But we have so many weapons offensively that Joe Harris doesn't have to take the heavy burden this year. He will be the No. 1 scoring option, but he doesn't have to go out and score 20-plus points a game for us. We have multiple guys who can score, and I think we have to play to our strengths, which I think is sharing the ball."
A third sophomore, center Mike Tobey, added 10 points and three rebounds, including a rebound and dunk off Darion Atkins' miss to push Virginia's biggest lead to 25 with 10:44 left.
Atkins had eight points and 11 rebounds.
"We are a more balanced team this year," said Bennett, in his fifth season at Virginia. "Guys will get shots, and I'm hoping they're going to fall. I'm not going to say we're a great shooting team, but we have guys who can get it going, and I think that can open up the game."
Freshman forward Tom Vodanovich led the Dukes with 11 points, but they struggled to hit perimeter shots against Virginia's aggressive defense that limited JMU to 31.3 percent shooting from the floor.
Only 4 minutes in, Virginia led 13-5 and JMU called a timeout.
The Dukes steadied themselves and cut the deficit to 13-10 at the 13:11 mark with a 3-pointer by Vodanovich, but Virginia's rebounding advantage (45-27) wore down James Madison.
"It's not exactly what we had hoped," said Dukes coach Matt Brady, who must replace the top three scorers from last season's NCAA tournament team and will have to wait another 14 games for guard Andre Nation, his top returning scorer, to complete his suspension for a violation of athletic department policy. "They're outstanding, as good as anybody defensively in the country. They make it very difficult to get any penetration of any kind on them."
Virginia's perimeter shooting was spotty much of the first half, but the Cavaliers pushed their lead to 23-11 with 4:24 left in the first half on Akil Mitchell's three-point play.
Virginia then finished a 17-1 run that extended the lead to 30-11, with Brogdon hitting his third 3-pointer of the half. The Dukes went almost 7 minutes without scoring before Ron Curry's 3-pointer with 1:13 left halted Virginia's run and made it 30-14.
"For 9 or 10 minutes we were hanging around, and I thought we were doing what we wanted to do defensively, but we couldn't make any shots," Brady said.
The Cavaliers led 32-14 at halftime and pressed their advantage early in the second half. A short drive and finger roll by Justin Anderson made it 43-21 with 13:20 left, prompting JMU to call another timeout.
JMU cut it to 48-29 with 8:17 remaining when Vodanovich and Andrey Semenov hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, but Virginia did not let the Dukes get any closer.
The frontcourt addition of Gill and the improvement of Tobey has the Cavaliers aiming for a return to the NCAA tournament after a late-season collapse relegated them to the NIT in 2012-13.
"Last year we had to go to Joe, and there was a lot of pressure on him to score for us," Tobey said. "This year we're a real deep team. It makes us a lot more of a threat offensively."