By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For more than two-and-a-half seasons, they’ve played alongside each other in the University of Virginia’s backcourt, and the rapport between Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes grows ever stronger.
“It’s evolved as much, I think, as chemistry between two players can,” Brogdon said Sunday night after No. 13 Virginia’s 73-65 win over Syracuse at John Paul Jones Arena.
Rarely do Brogdon, a fifth-year senior from Atlanta, and Perrantes, a junior from Los Angeles, require words to communicate with each other on the court any more. Eye contact usually suffices.
“For example, when they started pressing us at the end, [Perrantes] throws it right over the top,” Brogdon said. “I don’t have to point. I don’t have to gesture. It’s just an eye contact, like, `You know where to throw it, I know where to be.’ We read each other very well.”
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim knows that all too well. Since joining the ACC, the Orange is 0-3 against the Cavaliers, in no small part because of Brogdon’s and Perrantes’ contributions.
Sunday night at JPJ, where the Wahoos are 10-0 this season, Brogdon and Perrantes combined for 37 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and five steals. Of Virginia’s final 24 points, Brogdon scored 12 and Perrantes seven.
“Those are big shots from big players,” Boeheim said.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Brogdon pushed UVA’s lead to 55-48 with 5:15 remaining, and back-to-back baskets by Perrantes — the first a trey, the second a driving layup — made it 62-57 with 1:44 left.
“We really made some nice plays down the stretch,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “We had to, to answer the plays [Syracuse players] were making.”
The Orange (13-8 overall, 3-5 ACC) hit 13 of 30 shots from beyond the arc, a shooting spree that kept the `Hoos (15-4, 4-3) on edge almost until the final buzzer. But Virginia never panicked, even after Syracuse rallied from 10 points down to pull even at 47-47 with 8:16 to play.
Since Perrantes joined the program in 2013, the Cavaliers have won 75 of 86 games, and they’re not easily rattled. The last of Perrantes’ game-high seven assists Sunday night set up a Brogdon 3-pointer that pushed Virginia’s lead to 52-48 with 5:43 remaining.
On UVA’s next possession, sophomore forward Isaiah Wilkins fed Brogdon for another trey, to the crowd’s delight. Then, after Syracuse pulled to 57-54, Wilkins spotted Perrantes open in the right corner. One pass and one shot later, Virginia led 60-54 in a game originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
“That’s what good players do, make those shots,” Boeheim said, “and that was the difference in the game.”
Brogdon finished with a team-high 21 points and also had five rebounds, three assists and one steal. Perrantes totaled 16 points, seven assists and a career-high four steals.
For a long stretch of the first half, Bennett used Brogdon in the high post against Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone, and the move paid huge dividends. The Cavaliers went into the break leading 37-29.
“Malcolm in the middle,” Bennett said, smiling.
Brogdon was asked how often he practiced playing in the high post leading up to game.
“We actually didn’t work on that at all,” Brogdon said, laughing. “[Bennett] just threw me in the middle … I just tried to be aggressive.”
Bennett said: “You like having a playmaker up there whenever you can. Malcolm could turn and face if he had the shot, or he could drive it and be more of a point guard in there. I thought that gave us a nice lift, and we got a lot of buckets, whether it was him scoring or him making some plays.”
Such performances, of course, are nothing new for the 6-5, 215-pound Brogdon, who has started 91 games as a Cavalier. He was named a second-team All-American in 2014-15 after helping Virginia win its second straight ACC regular-season title.
With his 21 points Sunday night, Brogdon upped his career total to 1,457, passing the legendary Barry Parkhill (1,437) and moving into 20th place on UVA’s all-time list. By this time next week, Brogdon may well have passed No. 19 Othell Wilson (1,469) and, perhaps, No. 18 Donald Hand (1,486) as well.
The Cavaliers have always looked to Brogdon for scoring. Perrantes’ role has changed over the course of his career. Surrounded by players such as Brogdon, Joe Harris, Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill, Perrantes did not always look to score in his first two seasons at Virginia. But the Cavaliers’ coaches never doubted his ability to do so.
Bennett referred Sunday night to the tournament in Illinois at which UVA assistant coach Ron Sanchez saw Perrantes put on a shooting clinic in December 2012. In five games at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Perrantes averaged 25 points and made 16 treys.
“Certainly we knew he could shoot it,” Bennett said.
As a Virginia freshman, Perrantes shot 43.7 percent from beyond the arc, but he averaged fewer than five field-goal attempts per game. As a sophomore, he raised his scoring average from 5.5 points to 6.4, but he took only about six shots per game.
This season, the Cavaliers need more from Perrantes, and he’s delivered. He’s third on the team in scoring (11.9 ppg) and leads the ACC in 3-point accuracy (54.9 percent). Along with Brogdon and the 6-8 Gill, a fifth-year senior who had 16 points and eight rebounds Sunday night, Perrantes has become one of Virginia’s primary options on offense.
Perrantes’ shooting “mechanics are pretty strong,” Bennett said, “and I think that’s an important key for us, for him to look for them and to be a threat for us.”
In his first two seasons at UVA, Perrantes said, he often deferred to Brogdon and concentrated on learning from his older teammate.
“I feel like now, he can throw some things off me,” Perrantes said, “and we learn stuff from each other, different things, and I feel like it’s huge. I feel like when we need something, we look at each other and say, `Let’s get it.’ I think it’s huge to have a guard like that beside you.”
For the season, Perrantes is 39 of 71 from beyond the arc. His teammates are “giving me the ball in the right spots,” he said, “and I’m just taking open spots, and not having to do too much but make plays when needed and still be able to get other people involved as well.
“I think it’s just a confidence thing, and I feel like I’ve got it going right now.”
With wins at JPJ over Clemson and Syracuse, Virginia has built some momentum, too, since losing Jan. 17 at Florida State. The victories underscored the tremendous home-court advantage UVA has built during Bennett’s tenure.
On a night when road conditions in many places were hazardous because of the massive snowstorm that hammered Central Virginia on Friday and Saturday, there was a strong turnout of fans at JPJ, many of them students.
“It was a loud crowd,” Bennett said, “and for us to have [so many fans], that was great, and I really appreciated that. They got a good show.”
UP NEXT: At 7 p.m. Tuesday, in a game that can be seen online on ESPN3, Virginia meets Wake Forest (10-9, 1-6) at Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The Cavaliers have yet to win an ACC road game this season, and they’d like to end that streak in Winston-Salem.
“We haven’t come out with that same type of energy on the road that we have at home,” Perrantes said, “and we’ve just got to find a way to do it, find a way to get it from within us.”