By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The box score details the contributions of such players as London Perrantes, Devon Hall and Marial Shayok, key figures in sixth-ranked Virginia’s 63-61 win over previously unbeaten Ohio State late Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
The only mention of the crowd is the line that lists the attendance — 14,566 — but don’t be deceived. The Cavaliers’ fans played an invaluable role in this ACC/Big Ten Challenge game.
“They were the like the sixth man tonight,” Shayok said.
With 3:40 left in the first half, the Buckeyes led 32-16, and Virginia was in disarray. For the Wahoos, that was their largest deficit since Dec. 30, 2013, when they trailed by 37 points in the second half of a one-sided loss at Tennessee. But the home crowd never lost hope, and its ear-splitting support proved crucial as the `Hoos (7-0) rallied for a memorable victory.
Virginia, which trailed 36-24 at the break, scored the first 11 points of the second half to rattle the Buckeyes (6-1). As the Cavaliers’ deficit shrunk, the noise level inside JPJ grew.
“When we made that run to get it close to start the second half, that’s as good as it gets,” head coach Tony Bennett said.
“I’m so thankful for that. You dream of that, you hope for that. You work to build your program so that [the fans are] deafening and they’re valuing good play and defense.”
In seven-plus seasons under Bennett, the Cavaliers have posted a 104-20 record at JPJ. They’ve won 24 straight home games and 45 of the past 46, a stretch during which many opponents have wilted in the high-decibel environment.
The crowd Wednesday night, Bennett said, “was one of the best I’ve heard. It’s hard to say if that’s the best, but it was very loud, and that crowd was willing us to play that hard defensively and scrap and fight. I loved it.”
Next up for Virginia is a Saturday afternoon date with 25th-ranked West Virginia (5-1) at sold-out JPJ. In last year’s Jimmy V Classic, the Cavaliers trailed by 12 before rallying after intermission for a 70-54 win over the Mountaineers at Madison Square Garden.
“I remember getting overwhelmed in the first half,” Bennett said.
The game Wednesday night followed a similar script. The Buckeyes shot 60 percent from the floor in the first half, and UVA shot 28.6 percent. Virginia had nearly twice as many turnovers (seven) as assists (four) in the first 20 minutes.
“We got thoroughly outplayed in every way, shape and form in the first half,” Bennett said. “They beat us down the floor, they were the aggressor on the glass, they were just a tough-minded, talented team, and we couldn’t stop them in any way, really. We were loose with the ball.
“Then, in the second half, we played. I have used that saying, `When you whip a donkey it will kick, but when you whip a thoroughbred it responds.’ Now, by no means are we thoroughbreds, but [UVA’s players] responded.”
A four-year starter at point guard, Perrantes suffered through a miserable first half, missing 4 of 5 shots from the floor and turning the ball over three times. He reverted to form after Bennett challenged him in the locker room.
“Obviously, I knew I wasn’t playing to the best of my ability or even anywhere close,” Perrantes said, “and I felt like that was hurting our team. I was kind of on myself about it and I’m glad he got into me. That’s the most I’ve gotten ripped by him since I’ve been here, and it sparked us all, I think, just knowing that I can respond to something like that. That means that everybody [else] can too.”
In the second half, Perrantes hit 5 of 7 shots from the floor, including three 3-pointers. He also helped the `Hoos limit Ohio State to 36.8-percent accuracy from the floor after the break. Perrantes finished with a season-high 19 points.
“It was a tale of two halves for him, without a doubt,” Bennett said. “He had a terrific second half, and a not-so-terrific first half, to be polite. He did. I got after him, and he responded the right way defensively and worked.”
Perrantes said: “I just needed to play with more energy, and for sure Coach Bennett instilled some energy in me.”
In last year’s Challenge, Virginia defeated Ohio State 64-58 in Columbus. Perrantes, recovering from an appendectomy, missed that game, but the Buckeyes had no answer for All-America guard Malcolm Brogdon, who finished with 22 points. (Brogdon is now a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks.)
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta mentioned that game to Perrantes when they spoke late Wednesday night at JPJ.
“I told him just a second ago, `Last year it was Brogdon and this year it’s you,'” Matta said at his postgame press conference. “I think from the standpoint of his poise and understanding, he knew when to go and when not to go. He hit some big-time shots down the stretch.”
This is Matta’s 14th season as Ohio State’s head coach. Before Wednesday, the Buckeyes were 214-1 under Matta in games in which they built leads of at least 15 points.
The Cavaliers “make you pay,” Matta said. “They’re patient. They understand reads and cuts. Every single time we made a mistake they made us pay for it.”
Shayok, a 6-5 junior, put the `Hoos ahead for good with layup that made it 59-57 with 1:57 left. He finished with eight points, and Hall, a 6-5 redshirt junior, had a season-high 12 points. Hall’s two free throws with 3:10 left made it 55-55.
“We were lackadaisical in the first half,” Hall said, “and [the Buckeyes] kind of punched us in the mouth, and we had to come out and fight. We knew we were capable of doing it.”
After Ohio State pulled to 61-59 with 1:10 to play, redshirt junior Darius Thompson inbounded the ball to Perrantes, who spotted 6-7 junior Isaiah Wilkins open down the court. Wilkins soared for a dunk on which he was fouled, but he couldn’t convert the three-point play.
Two free throws by Ohio State guard JaQuan Lyle made it 63-61, and then Shayok was fouled with 10.5 seconds left. Both of his free throws bounced off the back rim, and the Buckeyes called a timeout with 6.5 seconds to set up a final shot.
They ended up settling for a contested 24-footer by Lyle, who wasn’t able to shake Shayok. Lyle’s shot missed, and the `Hoos exhaled.
“The last defensive stand was good,” Bennett said. “Really good. I just was hoping we’d not foul and we’d make them shoot a tough shot. I said, `OK, we got back into this with some good hard defense. Let’s do what we do and make `em earn.’ ”
Through six games, Virginia’s average margin of victory was a staggering 31.5 points. To know they can win a tight game, too, boosts the Cavaliers’ confidence.
“We definitely needed it,” Perrantes said. “We have a bunch of great teams we’ve got to play in the ACC, so we knew it was going to come eventually. I’m glad it came now, and I’m glad we overcame it … Nobody just sat there and let it go. We knew we had to come out and play as hard as we could to get back in the game.”
Virginia forced 20 turnovers, of which Lyle had eight. Late in the game, UVA went with a four-guard lineup, playing Perrantes, Thompson, Shayok and Hall alongside Wilkins.
“We weren’t planning on it, but it was just something that we needed to do,” Perrantes said. “So being able to play today with that four-guard lineup will be able to help us on Saturday. We got a little taste of it. So we’ll see how much we use it on Saturday.”
Virginia expects West Virginia to press from start to finish Saturday. That’s been WVU’s trademark under head coach Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers forced 40 turnovers Monday night in a 108-61 rout of Manhattan in Morgantown, W.Va.
“We just have to dial in,” Hall said. “This is what we want. We want to play good teams. We want to challenge ourselves, and it’ll only help us further down the road.”
The ‘Hoos hope the atmosphere Saturday afternoon is as frenzied as it was Wednesday night.
“It was huge,” Shayok said.