By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The veterans on the University of Virginia men’s basketball team haven’t forgotten what happened against Duke at John Paul Jones Arena in 2014-15.
Half of UVA’s roster, however, had never experienced a loss at JPJ before this weekend.
After losing to the Blue Devils on Jan. 31, 2015, the Cavaliers reeled off a program-record 24 consecutive home victories. No. 25 West Virginia ended that run Saturday afternoon, rallying for a 66-57 win over No. 6 Virginia before 14,623 at JPJ.
The Wahoos (7-1) will regroup at practice Sunday and Monday and then try to start a new streak Tuesday night. At 7 o’clock, in its last game before breaking for final exams, UVA hosts East Carolina (7-2) at JPJ.
When he met with his players after the game, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett put the loss to WVU (6-1) in perspective.
“I told them, `We’re seeking quality. We’re trying to improve and be the best we can, and this is obviously not the end of the world, not the end of the year. You just learn from this, grow from this,’ ” Bennett said at his postgame press conference.
The reasons for the Cavaliers’ defeat were many. Against relentless full-court pressure, Virginia turned the ball over 14 times, and the Mountaineers turned those mistakes into 18 points. UVA’s defense, so stifling in the first half, was ineffective thereafter, as WVU shot 57.1 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes.
One of West Virginia’s starting guards, Daxter Miles Jr., was ejected with 2:42 left in the first half for a flagrant foul on UVA forward Isaiah Wilkins, but his teammates more than made up for his absence.
The Mountaineers played exceptional defense on point guard London Perrantes, a four-year starter and UVA’s unquestioned leader this season. Perrantes scored only six points. He finished with a game-high seven assists, but he also had three turnovers and missed 8 of 10 shots from the floor, including 6 of 7 from beyond the arc.
WVU’s strategy against Perrantes?
“Just make everything hard,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “Make it hard to catch it, hard to pass it, hard to shoot it.”
One of the team’s many offensive weapons in 2015-16, when Virginia advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, Perrantes is the focus of opposing defenses this season.
“I feel like I get everybody’s best now, with Malcolm [Brogdon] and Anthony [Gill] being gone,” Perrantes said. “I just gotta get used to it. It’s early in the season and I’m not used to it, but we’ve got guys that can step up and help me, can help the team, so I’m not really worried too much about it.”
Redshirt junior guard Darius Thompson, who began his college career at Tennessee, scored 14 points, his high as a Cavalier. But he was the only UVA player in double figures Saturday. Junior guard Marial Shayok contributed nine points, and Wilkins (game-high eight rebounds) and freshman guard Kyle Guy added seven points apiece.
“Hopefully, we are a team that if one guy is off, our balance can help,” Bennett said, “[but] that wasn’t the case today. Darius was obviously solid, but the 14 turnovers were all pretty costly ones.”
When these teams met last year at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic, UVA struggled in the first half before rallying for a 70-54 victory. The `Hoos pounced on the Mountaineers on Saturday and led 17-6 eight minutes in.
“I thought we had a terrific start,” Bennett said. “We were swarming, we were good defensively, we were alive, we had energy, and [then West Virginia] just kind of wore on us.”
That’s the intent, Huggins said, of WVU’s press.
“It’s not just stealing the ball, it’s the cumulative effect of making them work, not being able to walk the ball up the floor and play at their pace,” Huggins said. “We want people to play at our pace. It’s a big deal for us.”
Perrantes said: “It’s brutal. Having to play against the press for 40 minutes is tough, and they do not stop. They keep going until the whistle blows. It’s just something you can’t replicate. You’ve just got to find a way to get through it during the game, and we struggled to find that.”
In practice this week, the `Hoos worked on bringing the ball upcourt against seven-man presses. That helped Virginia’s ball-handlers, but it didn’t fully prepare them for what the Mountaineers showed them.
“They do something completely different than anybody in the country,” Perrantes said. “We just tried to do the best we could. I feel like we had some spurts where we handled it very well and then we had some times when we didn’t.”
In its comeback win over Ohio State late Wednesday at JPJ in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Virginia went 0 for 3 from the line in the final 20 seconds. Missed free throws were a bigger problem for the Cavaliers on Saturday.
UVA made only 7 of 13 attempts from the line. WVU, meanwhile, was 16 for 19.
“That was concerning, too, from the last game and this game,” Bennett said. “You knew it was going to be hard-fought, so you needed to capitalize on every possession, and a breakdown [leading] to a turnover, or missed free throws, you really felt them late in the game.”
Even so, the Cavaliers were in position to win until the final 90 seconds, when WVU took control. Outstanding ball movement — redshirt junior guard Devon Hall made the last pass — set up Perrantes’ second and final field goal, a 3-pointer that put Virginia ahead 54-53 with 3:08 remaining.
The Mountaineers regained the lead on a basket by 6-9 Nathan Adrian (10 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals), but Thompson hit 1 of 2 free throws with 1:44 left to tie the game at 55-55.
UVA didn’t score again until Shayok’s jump shot made it 64-57 with 5.2 seconds left.
“West Virginia is an obviously well-coached, very physical, tough, veteran team, and you could see that,” Bennett said. “Our guys gave effort, but I don’t know if we quite matched [WVU’s] physicality. It was a little different for some of our new guys.”
Late in the game, Bennett went with a four-guard lineup that included 6-5 freshman Ty Jerome. Perrantes, Thompson and Jerome are probably the team’s best ball-handlers, said Bennett, who hoped playing them together would give Perrantes more opportunities to shoot.
Jerome, who played 10 minutes, didn’t turn the ball over. He made 1 of 3 shots, missing both of his 3-point attempts.
“I played OK,” Jerome said. “I think my missed three with two-and-a-half minutes left was real costly and really hurt us, but overall it was a good learning experience.”
The Cavaliers know their margin for error is thinner than in 2015-16, and “with the teams that we’re playing we can’t put ourselves in a hole that’s going to be tough to get out of,” Perrantes said.
Virginia played hard against West Virginia, Jerome said. “We just need to fix a few breakdowns, and we’ll learn from it and get better.”