Nov. 12, 2016
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Twice in last season’s NCAA tournament, swingman Marial Shayok came off the bench to score in double figures for the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, contributing 10 points in a first-round win over Hampton and then, two nights later, 12 in a victory over Butler.
In a similar role, the 6-5 junior provided a spark Friday night in the No. 8 Cavaliers’ 2016-17 opener. Shayok needed only 20 minutes to score a team-high 15 points in a 76-51 win over UNC Greensboro at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“Everybody on this team already knew that he could do that,” junior forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “It was just about him having his confidence and getting his shots. He got `em up today and they went in, so that was good to see.”
Shayok started eight games in 2015-16 and may well return to the starting lineup at some point this season. Against UNCG (0-1), though, head coach Tony Bennett started senior London Perrantes at point guard and redshirt juniors Devon Hall and Darius Thompson at the two wing spots.
“This will all evolve,” Bennett said. For now, though, he likes what Shayok, who was slowed by a toe injury during the preseason, adds off the bench.
“I challenged Marial,” Bennett told reporters. “I said, `Let’s be a sixth man that comes [in] and gives us some energy and a spark,’ and I thought defensively he was good, and he gave us those baskets. He can manufacture his own shot. So that was nice to see. I thought he did a really good job.”
Shayok said: “I just wanted to bring some energy. I was excited for this first game. We all worked really hard, so I was really optimistic and just had a positive mindset and came out hungry.”
As a sophomore, Shayok averaged 4.3 points, scoring in double figures only four times during the regular season. (His career high of 17 points came early last season against Long Beach State in Charleston, S.C.) But his production increased in the postseason, starting with a 10-point night in Virginia’s win over Miami in the ACC tournament semifinals.
Like most players, Shayok would like to start, but “I’m not really worried about that,” he said. “I’m just trusting Coach whenever I go out there. I just play hard, and whatever happens, happens. I’m just trying to win. We’re all working really hard. It’s competitive.”
That Perrantes, a four-year starter, will be on the floor most of the time is a given. Otherwise, though, “I feel like we really don’t have certain starters [in the backcourt] every night,” Thompson said. “Anybody can come in and contribute. Really, it just shows how deep we can be.”
That depth was evident Friday night at the Greensboro Coliseum, where in 2014 the Cavaliers won the ACC tournament for the first time since 1976. UVA fans were well-represented in the crowd of of 5,513, and they included former Virginia center Mike Tobey and a host of the team’s current and former student-managers.
The Wahoos, led by the 6-4 Thompson (3 for 4), made 8 of 16 shots from 3-point range. Virginia held the Spartans scoreless for the final 8:38 of the first half and led 42-17 at the break.
“I liked the intensity we came out with,” Bennett said.
The Cavaliers weren’t as crisp in the second half, when each team scored 34 points, but overall they turned in a dominating performance. Seven players scored at least seven points for Virginia, and four finished in double figures: Shayok, Thompson (12), Wilkins (10) and Perrantes (10).
“It’s good to get that under our belt and get some of those jitters out,” said Wilkins, who grabbed a game-high nine rebounds. “It was just a lot of fun out there.”
In his UVA debut, freshman guard Kyle Guy had seven points, three assists and two steals in 19 minutes off the bench.
“We were really sharp tonight, I feel like,” Guy said.
Even the famously demanding Bennett gave his team high marks. Every team enters its opener with unknowns, and the Cavaliers took the court without such players as Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte, key figures in last season’s run to the Elite Eight.
“With this team this year, I think there’s even more unknowns,” Bennett said. “I just didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted them to battle and play hard each possession. I said, `You’re not going to win every one, but let’s see what we can do,’ and I liked the defensive mindset and the sharing of the ball in the first half specifically.”
Virginia has a full complement of 13 scholarship players, but neither 6-9 redshirt junior Austin Nichols nor 6-9 redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite was available for the opener. That meant extended minutes for 6-11 redshirt sophomore Jack Salt and 6-7 sophomore Jarred Reuter, and they played well.
Salt finished with seven points and three assists — both career highs — and pulled down four rebounds. Reuter, off the bench, had eight points and six boards in 18 minutes.
How the frontcourt minutes will be divided once Nichols and Diakite return — both are eligible to play Tuesday night in UVA’s home opener — is still to be determined.
“It’ll depend on matchups,” Bennett said. “But there’s some quality depth there.”
He used nine scholarship players Friday night. Bennett plans to redshirt two of the team’s most promising players: 6-11 freshman Jay Huff and 6-7 swingman De’Andre Hunter, both of whom would benefit from added strength.
“I think it could really be positive for their future, because I know what their goals are,” Bennett said. “I’m excited about them getting after it [in practice and in the weight room] right now.
“Is this [set] in stone? Nothing’s in stone. Things can happen, but for right now [that’s the plan].”
UNCG’s head coach is Wes Miller, a former guard for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Miller raved against UVA’s defense, which held the Spartans to 37-percent accuracy from the floor.
The Cavaliers, too, were pleased with their work at that end of the court.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to [expect] coming in,” Wilkins said. “We’ll take this as a marker and try to improve on it Tuesday.”
At 7 p.m., UVA hosts St. Francis Brooklyn at John Paul Jones Arena. The Terriers open the season Sunday afternoon at NC State.
A limited number of tickets remain for the home opener. For information, click here.