By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When we next see the University of Virginia men’s basketball team play at John Paul Jones Arena, it will be Feb. 1, against arch-rival Virginia Tech.
After defeating Georgia Tech 62-49 on Saturday afternoon, UVA is 8-2 at JPJ this season. That’s not bad, of course, but the 16th-ranked Cavaliers are 5-1 in road games and 2-0 at neutral sites.
“I think we play a little bit better on the road,” senior point guard London Perrantes said Saturday. “We play with a lot more energy, I feel like, offensively and defensively.”
The Wahoos (15-3 overall, 5-2 ACC) will need all the energy they can muster over the next two games. The first is a Tuesday night date with 15th-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. The Fighting Irish (17-3, 6-1) are unbeaten at home this season.
Then, on Sunday afternoon, Virginia takes on top-ranked Villanova (19-1), the reigning NCAA champion, at the sold-out Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“Quality, quality opponents,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said.
“Notre Dame’s playing at an elite level. Offensively, they’re terrific … They’ll be a great challenge, a great opportunity, and I told our guys, `You’ve got to love the challenge.’ Then we’ll address the next one.”
Georgia Tech (11-8, 3-4), which never led Saturday, is not at the level of Notre Dame or Villanova. The Yellow Jackets are in their first season under head coach Josh Pastner, who said his team’s “margin for error is zero.”
Still, the Jackets have several weapons, among them one of the ACC’s most productive big men in Ben Lammers, a 6-10, 227-pound center who came to Charlottesville averaging 14.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Jack Salt drew the assignment of defending Lammers, and the 6-11, 247-pound redshirt sophomore turned in his finest performance as a Cavalier.
“I think the strength of Jack just kind of overpowered [Lammers],” Perrantes said. “He played well without fouling him.”
In a career-high 35 minutes — his previous high was 27 — Salt scored five points and grabbed six rebounds. But his impact was probably more apparent in his counterpart’s numbers. Lammers missed 9 of 12 shots from the floor and finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 38 minutes.
“There were a few story lines, but I don’t think there was [one] any bigger than the way Jack impacted the game,” Bennett said.
“Ben Lammers is a good player, and [Salt] made him earn everything. He played with his hands free, he fought his position and showed his strength, and that was impressive. I really enjoyed that. I loved seeing that, because it was I think a huge key for us in the game, because that guy can score and make some big plays.”
Salt said: “I was pretty tired — I hadn’t played this much in a long time — but I was very happy to be out there. It was so good to be out there and guard a good player. I was excited for the challenge, because [Lammers’ style] means a lot of one-on-one defense.”
As a redshirt freshman, Salt was prone to foul trouble. That’s no longer as much of an issue for him, thanks to adjustments he’s made on defense.
“I’m just trying to keep my hands off [the opposing player],” Salt said. “I’m trying to body him, bump him, but not with my hands; more with my chest and my lower body. So that’s been a big focus, and the coaches have helped me out a lot.”
“I’ve never experienced that before,” Salt said, smiling.
How much Bennett uses Salt in each game depends largely on the opponent’s offensive style. Early this month, Salt played only the first 110 seconds against Pitt, which did not employ a traditional center.
“Whatever Coach needs, I’m going to be there,” Salt said.
Salt wasn’t the Cavaliers’ only standout Saturday as they stretched their winning streak to four games. Shayok, a 6-5 junior, made 6 of 9 shots from the floor and 5 of 5 from the line. He finished with a career-best 19 points in only 23 minutes.
“The guys were finding me,” Shayok said, “so I was just catching and shooting it and they were going in.”
Bennett said: “Marial is wired to score. He can score off the bounce. He can do some things [offensively that other Cavaliers can’t]. That’s just the way he is. His ability to put it on the floor, take those shots and create some offense is helping us.
After coming off the bench in Virginia’s first 14 games, Shayok has started the past four. He’s averaging 14.8 points as a starter.
For the season, Perrantes remains UVA’s leading scorer (11.7 ppg), but Shayok has raised his average to 10.0.
“I think it takes a lot of pressure off London,” Wilkins said. “Marial’s wired to score, so I think Coach Bennett put him in the starting lineup just to make sure we get going the right way, and he’s done a great job of it.”
Perrantes scored 11 points and Hall 10 on Saturday. All of Perrantes’ points came in the first seven minutes. The Jackets switched defenses throughout the game and periodically used a box-and-one designed to take Perrantes out of UVA’s offense.
Not since his senior year of high school, Perrantes said, had he faced such a tactic.
“It was different,” he said. “I never thought I’d see the day where I got boxed-and-one again, but it happened. It changed the pace of the game a little bit, but we got some open looks … I have faith in my teammates to be able get open shots and get good looks without me.”
The Cavaliers shot 45.8 percent from the floor Saturday despite hitting only 5 of 22 attempts from 3-point range. That’s the worst they’ve shot from beyond the arc in ACC play this season.
“My gosh,” Hall said, shaking his head. “We were getting great looks in the first half. Even in the second half too. We were wide open. I think I missed four wide-open [3-pointers), which is really aggravating.”
Still, Bennett was not unhappy with his players’ shot selection. “Most of those were wide-open rhythm shots that you have to take,” he said.
The most accurate Cavalier from beyond the arc was Perrantes (2 for 4). But it was a layup that earned him entry to an elite group at UVA. With 13:52 left in the first half, Perrantes scored on a drive that gave him seven points for the game and 1,001 for his career.
With 512 assists, Perrantes ranks fifth all-time at UVA, and Saturday he joined John Crotty, Sean Singletary and Donald Hand as the only players in program history to total 1,000 points and 500 assists during their careers.
“It’s amazing just being able to be one of those players in that club,” said Perrantes, a four-year starter.
“But now I think the points are going up as well, so that’s helping us as a team,” said.
Asked about Perrantes’ feat, Bennett said, “That guy has been a part of a lot of winning. That’s impressive. His completeness and his steadiness, they’ve been so good. You saw that in him from his first year here, and that’s no small thing.”
Perrantes is “such a key to this team, and he makes big shots,” Bennett said. “What a three-and-a-half years that he’s had, and we’ve got some more.”
Pastner said: “Perrantes is excellent. If he’s not the best guard in the league, he’s one of the very best. He’s very good.”
Perrantes has more goals to pursue, and a new chapter in his college career starts Tuesday night in South Bend.
“We’re excited to go away and play in a different environment,” Perrantes said. “I’m excited to go to battle with these guys and see what happens.”