March 11, 2016
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — For a basketball team that hopes to play — and win — three games in a span of about 52 hours at Verizon Center, it was a welcome sight Thursday.
With the outcome of the ACC tournament’s third quarterfinal settled, University of Virginia mainstays Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes checked out of the game with 2:43 remaining. As applause from a decidedly pro-Virginia crowd washed over them, they walked to the bench, their work done for the night.
“Every little bit of rest helps,” associate head coach Ron Sanchez said after second-seeded UVA dominated the second half in a 72-52 victory over 10th-seeded Georgia Tech.
The Cavaliers (25-6) move on to face third-seeded Miami (25-6) at about 9:20 p.m. Friday. In the first semifinal, No. 1 seed North Carolina (26-6) takes on No. 4 seed Notre Dame (21-10) at 7 p.m.
The ACC title game is set for 9 p.m. Saturday.
“You’re hoping that you advance further than [the semifinals],” Sanchez said, “and just having a little bit more fuel in the tank could be the difference between another basket, another defensive stop, and so on.”
During the regular season, the Wahoos and the Hurricanes split their two meetings. UVA won 66-58 at John Paul Jones Arena on Jan. 12, and Miami prevailed 64-61 at BankUnited Center on Feb. 22.
The Cavaliers played significantly better in their defeat at Miami than they did Jan. 9 in a 68-64 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. In that game, the Yellow Jackets outrebounded Virginia 41-29 and turned 11 of their offensive boards into 15 second-chance points.
“We learned from that game, and we did better today,” said Perrantes, who complemented his game-high eight assists with eight points Thursday night.
The Cavaliers’ margin of victory was their largest in the ACC tournament since a 29-point romp over the Yellow Jackets in 1983.
“They’re obviously very good,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said.
In their ACC tourney opener, the fourth-ranked Cavaliers won going away after leading by only two points at the break.
“I thought the second half was really key,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “We did what we needed to do.”
Three Virginia players are from the Atlanta area — Brogdon, senior forward Evan Nolte and sophomore forward Isaiah Wilkins — and none had a stellar performance in the regular-season loss to Georgia Tech.
Brogdon scored a game-high 19 points but missed 8 of 9 shots from 3-point range. Wilkins had two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes, and Nolte had four fouls and only one point. It was not a pleasant experience for any of them.
“You’ve got a whole bunch of people there — I had like 50 people there — and we took an L,” Wilkins said. “It was tough. But we couldn’t think about that coming into this game. We know this is one-and-done basketball, and we’ve got to play our best basketball now.”
Virginia was plenty good Thursday night, and its Atlanta contingent, led by ACC player of the year Brogdon, made a major contribution.
A 6-5 fifth-year senior, Brogdon went 10 of 15 from the floor and 3 for 3 from the line and finished with a game-high 26 points. He scored eight points in a span of 85 seconds late in the first half, the first three on a shot from the right corner that put UVA ahead for good, at 23-22.
“Malcolm’s always great,” Wilkins said. “There’s not too much more you ask him to do. He’s always locked in on both sides of the ball.”
The ACC defensive player of the year, Brogdon also distinguished himself at that end Thursday, helping Virginia limit Marcus Georges-Hunt to seven points. Georges-Hunt, a senior guard, had scored 28 points Wednesday night against Clemson.
“I can just say it’s a collective effort,” Brogdon said. “Defense is what we pride ourselves on. Even with great players on opposing teams, it doesn’t matter who it is, we’re going to try to lock them down, we’re going to try to make them uncomfortable and make it a tough night for them.”
On a night when the Cavaliers shot 53.8 percent from the floor, they held the Jackets (19-14) to 40.8-percent accuracy. Twice Virginia forced Georgia Tech into a shot-clock violation.
“We talk about just making guys earn [their points],” Bennett said.
One of UVA’s most active defenders is Wilkins. He scored only three points Thursday night but made his presence felt in other ways, totaling four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot in 28 minutes.
Nolte sparkled too, scoring six points in 14 minutes off the bench. Four came on a single play. With 14:11 to play, Nolte was fouled while sinking a trey from the right corner, and he completed the four-point play to push Virginia’s lead to 44-32.
“It seems like every year around tournament time he starts heating up,” said Gill, who scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. “That’s just who he is.”
Nolte, who hit two 3-pointers last weekend in Virginia’s regular-season finale, a one-sided victory over Louisville, delighted the orange-clad fans at Verizon Center with his first basket Thursday night.
“Never saw a guy hit a 3 and have a whole crowd chant his name that quick,” Bennett said, smiling. “That was impressive.”
Nolte and center Mike Tobey are part of a senior class that has helped Virginia rejoin the nation’s elite. Neither has played as regularly, or as well, as he would have liked this season, but each has heeded Bennett’s directive to be ready when called upon.
“I think part of being a senior is knowing that when it comes to this time of the season, we’re going to need everybody in order to make a run,” said the 7-0 Tobey, who scored nine points Thursday night.
Starting guard Devon Hall had six points, five rebounds and one assist in 27 minutes, and reserve guard Darius Thompson, also a redshirt sophomore, turned a steal into a fast-break dunk midway through the first half.
“Obviously, Malcolm, Anthony [and] London are usually there,” Bennett said. “But when those other guys can give us a lift, hitting a shot, doing some things, it makes a big difference.”
The Virginia fans who turned Verizon Center into JPJ North made a big difference as well.
“It was an awesome crowd out there today,” Gill said. “Coming out of the tunnel, I saw those orange shirts. I was just stunned. It was a lot of people out there for us, a lot of support.”
Like their fans, the Cavaliers left Verizon Center in high spirits Thursday night.
“It feels good to get the first one under your belt,” Nolte said.
Bennett said: “I think we’re collectively in a good place.”
Only two Cavaliers played more than 28 minutes against Georgia Tech — Brogdon and Perrantes — and none played more than 33.
“We’ll take any rest we can, but we’re ready,” Perrantes said. “We know it’s going to be a battle, and we want to play three games, back to back to back, so we gotta do what we gotta do. Regardless of whether we’re tired or not, we’re going to find a way.”