By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — University of Virginia men’s basketball player Darius Thompson shares an apartment with several teammates, including London Perrantes. Thompson and Perrantes had little interaction Monday, though, before the team left for Columbus, Ohio.
Perrantes, who stayed behind in Charlottesville, was recovering from the appendectomy he had Sunday. And so he wasn’t able to offer much advice to Thompson, who replaced Perrantes in the starting lineup Tuesday night against Ohio State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“He was laid up in bed before we left, so I really didn’t get to talk much to him,” Thompson recalled Thursday after practice at John Paul Jones Arena. “But when I came back, he said he liked how I was being aggressive and I needed to keep that up.”
There was a lot to like about Thompson’s performance in the 10th-ranked Cavaliers’ 64-58 win over the Buckeyes. In his third start of the season — and first at point guard — the 6-4, 196-pound redshirt sophomore contributed 12 points, six assists and two rebounds in a career-high 36 minutes.
“I was just going out there to do whatever I could to help the team,” Thompson said.
The Cavaliers missed Perrantes, a 6-2 junior who was the MVP of last month’s Charleston (S.C.) Classic, “but I thought Darius did a great job stepping in,” senior guard Malcolm Brogdon said.
Thompson, who sat out last season after transferring to UVA from Tennessee, hit 5 of 8 shots from the floor against Ohio State, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.
“We’re a veteran team that has depth,” head coach Tony Bennett said in Columbus. “I’ve talked about that a lot this year. So it was an opportunity to see if we were a veteran team that had legitimate depth, and I think that showed against a team that’s talented [but inexperienced]. Darius did a good job.”
Virginia (6-1) will play twice more before breaking for final exams, and Perrantes’ status for those games remains uncertain. The first comes Saturday, when William & Mary (5-2) visits JPJ for a 2 p.m. game.
In a series that dates to 1905-06, the Cavaliers are 53-26 against the Tribe.
As a Tennessee freshman, Thompson started 10 games for a team that reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen. He averaged 2.6 points, 2.0 rebounds and 16.8 minutes per game and led the Volunteers in steals (36). He was second on the team in assists (87).
As a Cavalier, Thompson has played point guard, shooting guard and small forward, and his numbers reflect his value to the team. He’s averaging 7.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steal and 22.4 minutes per game.
After sitting out a year, Thompson said, he needed time to settle back into a comfortable rhythm on the court. “But I feel like the games we’ve had have knocked all the rust off, so I’m just going out there and playing.”
Especially impressive has been Thompson’s marksmanship. He’s shooting 57.1 percent from the floor (46.7 percent from 3-point range) and 87.5 percent from the line.
At Tennessee, Thompson shot 38.1 percent from the floor (19.5 percent from beyond the arc) and 74.2 percent from the line. Overall, he said, he’s a much better player than he was when he arrived at UVA in June 2014.
“I feel like defensively I’ve improved a lot,” Thompson said. “My shooting, I’ve worked on a lot. I’m a lot stronger than I was at Tennessee, so I feel like my game has changed a lot since I was at Tennessee.”
At Tennessee, he played for Cuonzo Martin, now the head coach at Cal, which Virginia will meet Dec. 22 at JPJ. Martin’s teams in Knoxville were known for their rugged defense, and that’s one of the trademarks of Bennett’s program at UVA, too. But it wasn’t always an easy transition for Thompson at that end of the floor.
“I’d say the defensive principles are completely different,” he said, “because in Coach Martin’s system it was more in-your-face, don’t-let-your-man-catch-the-ball, deny-the-ball type of defense. Here, the Pack Line defense is more about helping out your teammates.”
This is Bennett’s seventh year at Virginia, where his teams have not typically been known for their explosiveness on offense. This season, though, the Wahoos have scored at least 80 points five times, and they’ve averaging 78.6 per game.
“With the shot clock and new rules,” said Thompson, who excels in the open court, “we had to find easier ways to get points, and we’ve been working on getting transition buckets in practice. So I feel like we’ve got it going in the game, too.”