March 1, 2016
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Tony Bennett likes to call them X-factors. They’re not the stars of a team, but the less-heralded players whose contributions can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
For the University of Virginia men’s basketball team that Bennett coaches, the top scoring threats are fifth-year seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill and junior London Perrantes, three veterans who figure prominently in opponents’ scouting reports.
The Cavaliers’ other starters are sophomore Isaiah Wilkins and redshirt sophomore Devon Hall. Bennett refers to Wilkins as Virginia’s “glue guy,” and the 6-7 forward’s basketball IQ and defensive awareness are often as valuable as his points and rebounds.
Wilkins has started 13 games this season for fourth-ranked Virginia (22-6, 11-5), which meets ACC rival Clemson (16-12, 9-7) at 7 p.m. Monday in Greenville, S.C.
Hall, a 6-5 guard, has started the Cavaliers’ past 12 games. His performances have been more uneven than Wilkins’, but Hall played an important role Saturday in Virginia’s 79-74 win over then-No. 7 North Carolina at John Paul Jones Arena. He matched his ACC career high with 11 points, the last two of which came on free throws with 15 seconds left.
Hall had missed two of his previous three foul shots, including the front end of a one-and-one, and the home fans were anxious when he stepped to the line again with Virginia leading 77-74. They need not have worried. Hall calmly hit both shots.
“It’s hard to miss those free throws and then come back and stick the ones that he did, so I thought that was good,” Bennett said.
The misses were frustrating, Hall said, “but I just had to settle in and be able to knock those down when it really counted.”
During a first half in which Perrantes and Gill were quiet offensively, Hall sank two 3-pointers, helping the Wahoos take a 38-35 lead into the break.
“He came out playing with confidence,” Perrantes said. “When we play a team that’s really overplaying and playing hard, we need some people that can take the ball and get into the lane and make some shots and make some plays for other people, and he made some good plays for other people as well as himself. To be able to have that for us today was huge.”
“That other guard spot has been important,” Bennett said, “and when we get good production” — as Hall provided against UNC — “it helps us.”
Hall, a graduate of Cape Henry Collegiate in Virginia Beach, was eager to redeem himself after a lackluster outing in UVA’s previous game, a three-point loss to then-No. 12 Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. He missed all three of his field-goal attempts and went scoreless in 14 minutes at the BankUnited Center.
“I think in the Miami game I was a little bit less focused,” Hall said Saturday night, “and I was really frustrated with myself, because I knew that I wasn’t giving my best out there, and I was frustrated because my teammates needed me in particular.
“I think that it was just a matter of me regaining my focus and coming out here and playing for these guys.”
For the season, Hall has modest averages of 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds. But he’s third on the team in assists, with 52, and has only 23 turnovers. As a redshirt freshman, Hall was often careless with the ball, prone to passes that had little chance of reaching their target. No more.
“His decision-making has gotten a lot better,” assistant coach Jason Williford said.
The key for Hall, Williford said, “is making open shots, taking care of the ball, defending and rebounding. And if he can be consistent in those areas, he’s going to be good for us — not just for the remainder of this year, but moving forward.”
Hall, whose older brother, Mark, is a linebacker on the UVA football team, redshirted in 2013-14 and then averaged only 9.4 minutes in ACC games last season. So it’s not surprising, said Williford, a former Virginia player, that consistency has been an issue for Hall this season.
“Quite honestly, this is his first time getting this many minutes,” Williford said, “so I understand what he’s going through. I lived it. He’s probably just happy to be on the floor. There’ll be some nights where he plays well, some nights where he shoots it well. It’s just a confidence thing.
“I actually expect a huge jump from him next year.”
With Brogdon, Gill, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte gone, the Cavaliers’ lineup is sure to have a much different look in 2015-16, but decisions on who will play what roles next season can wait. As postseason approaches, the `Hoos are focused on the present.
When the teams met Jan. 19 at JPJ, Virginia defeated Clemson 69-62. A win in the rematch would keep the Cavaliers in contention for a third straight ACC regular-season title and bolster their chances of earning a double bye in the conference tournament, which starts next week in Washington, D.C.
UVA closes the regular season Saturday at 8:30 p.m. against No. 11 Louisville at JPJ.
Bennett hasn’t discussed postseason scenarios with his players, Gill said, but “he has mentioned [the importance of] going out there and playing our game. Wherever we end up, we end up. We’re just going to keep battling. The tough part of the season is coming up. It’s about to be one-and-done in the upcoming games, so we just have to be ready.”
In a typical season, Tuesday night’s game would be played at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson. But the Tigers’ on-campus arena is being renovated, and they’re playing their home games at 14,897-seat Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville.
The Tigers are 13-3 in Greenville this season.
“I know they play very well at home, in that arena,” Bennett said. “Hopefully our guys have been in a lot of arenas and can handle it.”