Dec. 2, 2015
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — To “get a gap,” in the parlance of University of Virginia men’s basketball, is to get stops at the defensive end on three consecutive possessions, and few things please head coach Tony Bennett more than to see his team do so.
Few things displease Bennett more than to see opponents carve up Virginia’s defense. But that’s what an inexperienced Ohio State team did for much of the second half Tuesday night in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Value City Arena.
With eight minutes to play, the 10th-ranked Cavaliers led 50-49, and the Buckeyes’ second-half numbers — against a program renowned for its defense — were staggering: 5 for 7 from 3-point range and 9 for 12 overall.
Forget a gap. “Get one stop!” shouted a staffer from the Virginia bench late in the game.
It was that kind of night for UVA, which often appeared sluggish when the Buckeyes had the ball. Still, the evening ended happily for the Wahoos. They delivered at both ends of the court late to secure a 64-58 victory before a listless crowd of 12,445 and an ESPN audience.
“I think we had just enough,” Bennett said after Virginia won on the road in the Challenge for the third time in four seasons.
That the Cavaliers (6-1) did so without their No. 1 point guard made the victory more impressive. Junior London Perrantes had an appendectomy Sunday and missed the game in Columbus. Redshirt sophomore Darius Thompson, a transfer from Tennessee, started in Perrantes’ place and contributed 12 points and six assists in 36 minutes.
“Great win for us,” said fifth-year senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led Virginia with 22 points. “They’re a very good team, very talented. So we’re just trying to keep it rolling, even though London’s gone. We missed him, but I thought Darius did a great job stepping in.”
Thompson’s six assists were his high as a Cavalier.
“I just tried to play my game,” he said. “London’s out, but the next person has to step up. Like I’ve been saying, we have a very deep team.”
Another redshirt sophomore guard, Devon Hall, played a season-high 24 minutes Tuesday night and hit two critical jump shots in the second half.
“Ballhandling guards are really important at the college level — any level — and I think that’s maybe what’s a little different about this year,” said Bennett, who noted that Virginia has Perrantes, Brogdon, Hall and, now, Thompson.
“When you have ballhandlers, guys that can take care of it, that really helps, whether it’s driving or making plays or just steadying the offense.”
The 6-4 Thompson, perhaps the most athletic player on the team, is not known for his perimeter shooting. But he made 2 of 3 attempts from 3-point range on a night when the Cavaliers were 8 for 16 from beyond the arc. The explanation for his sharpshooting?
“Practice,” Thompson said, smiling. “That’s all we do. Get a lot of shots up, and tonight they just happened to fall for me.”
They fell for the 6-5 Brogdon, too. Before Tuesday night, he’d never made more than four 3-pointers in a game as a Cavalier. Against Ohio State, was 6 for 10 from beyond the arc.
“They were packing the lane,” Brogdon said. “They didn’t want me to drive. So I had a lot of open, rhythm jump shots and I took `em.”
With 11:23 left, Brogdon picked up his third foul and took a seat on the bench. Virginia led by only a single point, and the Buckeyes’ confidence was soaring. But the Cavaliers steadied themselves, allowing Ohio State to make up no more ground.
Brogdon re-entered the game with 7:25 left and again took control of the proceedings. He scored seven points in the final 6:30 to help Virginia thwart the upset bid of the Buckeyes, whose rotation includes only one upperclassman: junior forward Marc Loving (19 points).
“They’re very athletic and talented,” Bennett said. “They’re just inconsistent with their youth.”
Brogdon wasn’t the only former Greater Atlanta Christian star to play a leading role for the Cavaliers. In 25 minutes off the bench, sophomore forward Isaiah Wilkins chipped in six points, five rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal.
“Last year I was an energy guy,” Wilkins said. “But this year I’m playing a little bit more, and I feel like I’ve developed some. No problem coming off the bench. I enjoy it.”
With 1:54 left, Wilkins hit a jumper in the lane to put Virginia up 59-53. The Buckeyes pulled to 59-55 on their next possession, then started fouling. With 34 seconds remaining, Ohio State’s seventh foul of the half put the Cavaliers in the bonus, and Wilkins went to the line for a one-and-one.
“The first thought that went through my head was, `This is like high school,’ ” Wilkins said. “That’s what I tried to think about.”
He smiled. “And then I thought, `Don’t airball it.’ ”
Wilkins need not have worried. He calmly made both free throws to extend Virginia’s lead to 61-55.
“That was big for him,” teammate Anthony Gill said. “I’m so proud of him for hitting that. He’s been working on his game so much, and what a night to show it. We really needed him to step up, and he did.”
Ohio State answered with a 3-pointer, but Virginia’s fifth-year seniors, Brogdon and the 6-8 Gill, were a combined 3 for 4 from the line in the final 27 seconds to settle the outcome.
Gill, scoreless in the first half, when foul trouble limited him to eight minutes, finished with 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds. The Buckeyes, led by 6-10 freshman Daniel Giddens, blocked eight shots, most of them by UVA post players.
“I thought Anthony as the game wore on started playing better defensively, and then offensively we rotated the ball and then got it in to him,” Bennett said. “And we moved the big guys around with a few different things offensively that gave them some chances to draw fouls.”
For the game, Ohio State made 50 percent of its field-goal attempts. That’s by far the best any team has shot against the Cavaliers this season.
“I think we were too worried about our own men at times,” Thompson said, “instead of worrying about help defense and being in the gap and closing out. We didn’t close out as well as we should, but luckily we did enough to win the game.”
Bennett said: “We had enough sound defensive plays, but we’ve got to keep improving.”
When Perrantes, who’s averaging 10 points and 5.3 assists, will be cleared to return to the lineup is unclear. In 2014-15, one of Virginia’s best players, Justin Anderson, was sidelined for eight days after having an appendectomy late in the season.
“I think it just depends on how you respond over the next couple days,” Bennett said. “It’s just unfortunate that’s our second one in a short amount of time.”
UP NEXT: Virginia hosts William & Mary (5-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday at John Paul Jones Arena. W&M defeated Old Dominion 55-48 in Williamsburg on Tuesday night.
The Tribe’s director of operations, Luke Ford, is a UVA graduate. Ford was the Cavaliers’ head student-manager in 2013-14. His brother, Logan, is in his third year as a Virginia student-manager.
A limited number of tickets remain for the William & Mary game. For information, visit VirginiaSports.com/tickets, stop by the UVA Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium, or call (800) 542-8821.