Feb. 21, 2017

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — For three seasons, London Perrantes started alongside Malcolm Brogdon at the University of Virginia, and together they formed one of the top backcourts in college basketball.

Brogdon was at John Paul Jones Arena on Monday night, but to have his number (15) retired, not to play. When Brogdon joined the Milwaukee Bucks last year, Perrantes took over as the Cavaliers’ leader, and for most of this season he’s thrived in that role.

Lately, though, Perrantes has been adrift. In Virginia’s past four games, he’s 16 of 58 from the floor overall and 5 of 28 from 3-point range. Not coincidentally, UVA dropped all of those games. And now the Wahoos find themselves mired in a four-game losing streak for the first time since 2009-10, Tony Bennett‘s first season as their head coach.

The latest setback for 18th-ranked Virginia was a 54-48 overtime loss to Miami, which erased a seven-point deficit in the final 2:25 of regulation and silenced the sellout crowd that had turned out to celebrate Brogdon’s legendary college career.

The `Hoos fell to 18-9 overall and 8-7 in the ACC. The Hurricanes improved to 19-8, 9-6.

“It was there for the taking,” Bennett said, “and we didn’t and they did.”

Like Brogdon, Perrantes usually shows little emotion on the court, but his frustration was evident Monday night. In UVA’s fourth game in nine days, Perrantes missed 13 of 15 field-goal attempts, including all five he took from beyond the 3-point arc.

Moreover, with 11:08 left in the second half and the Cavaliers leading by eight, Perrantes missed the front end of a one-and-one.

“It was just one of those games,” Bennett said. “He wasn’t sharp for us. He is getting matched pretty hard, they’re guarding him, and he’s not getting a lot of clean looks. But you just keep plugging. That’s all you can do.”

Asked Monday night if his struggles were the result of fatigue, Perrantes shrugged.

“I wish I knew,” he told reporters. “I wish I knew what was getting me out of rhythm so I could fix it. I’m just going into a pretty deep slump as of right now.”

The only senior on the Cavaliers’ roster, the 6-2 Perrantes still leads the team in scoring (12.3 ppg), assists, 3-pointers made and free throws made. He doesn’t see Brogdon often, but they communicate with each other periodically.

“We talk, but he’s not a guy that needs a lot of pep talks,” Brogdon said in a pregame press conference at JPJ. “He’s a guy that is methodical and thoughtful in what he does and how he thinks, but every once in a while I’ll say a few words to him to encourage him, to make sure his mind is right. Because I know the load that he’s taking on right now is a lot.

“I know leading a team in the ACC, in the spotlight, on the stage every night, it’s hard, it’s tough, and you have to have mental toughness to do that, and you have to have perseverance. And I think he has all those things. That’s why I think this team is going to be OK … They’re going to bounce back, because that’s what Virginia basketball is all about.”

In their conversations, Perrantes said, Brogdon has reminded him that “it’s not easy. Nothing good is ever going to come easy. He just told me, `You’re going to have your ups and your downs, you just got to find your way out of them, try to stay as level-headed as you can, and lead your team.’ I’m trying to do that as best as I can. I know the slump is kind of messing with me mentally, but I’m just trying to stay as up as I can for the team and trying to move forward.”

Did the encouragement from Brogdon help?

“It helped until I went out there and couldn’t make a bucket,” Perrantes said with a wry smile. “I’ve just got to keep that in the back of my mind. Coach Bennett always says the sun is going to come up in the morning, so hopefully my shot comes up in the morning too.”

Perrantes is not the only one struggling. UVA, which for most of the season had the ACC’s most efficient offense, has averaged only 48 points in its past three games, the most recent of which included a five-minute overtime period. The Cavaliers’ defense was better against Miami than it had been Saturday night in a 65-41 loss at North Carolina, but this no longer resembles the team that defeated such teams as Louisville (twice), California, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech (at JPJ) and Notre Dame.

“There are a lot of things we’re trying to overcome, and we need everybody playing at a fairly solid level for us to be able to be successful in this conference,” Bennett said.

Junior forward Isaiah Wilkins forced overtime by hitting two free throws with four seconds left in the second half, and redshirt freshman big man Mamadi Diakite supplied a spark in a career-high 25 minutes off the bench, but the Cavaliers’ poor shooting negated those positives.

Virginia made only 16 of 51 shots (31.4) percent from the floor. And on a night when the `Canes were 20 of 22 from the line, UVA was 13 of 20. Among those seven missed free throws were the front ends of three one-and-ones in the second half — all coming after a 12-0 run positioned the `Hoos to take control of the game.

“Our inexperience is showing, and we’re obviously sliding right now,” Bennett said, “and we gotta fight like crazy to play as hard as we can and see if we can get one.”

The Cavaliers don’t play again until noon Saturday, when they meet NC State (14-14, 3-12) in Raleigh. Brogdon will be back with the Bucks next weekend, but his legacy at UVA will endure.

The loss to Miami stings, Bennett said, “but that doesn’t take away from Malcolm’s night. That was awesome, and he’s one of the special ones. But it would’ve been nice to have a good feeling [with a victory] and to celebrate what was a wonderful career for him on a special night.”

Brogdon said: “I think it’s an amazing moment in my life right now, an amazing moment in my family’s life. I think it’s a moment that speaks to everybody that sacrificed for me to get here — my mom, my brothers — and I think it’s a moment that everybody around should enjoy, not just me. It speaks to Coach Bennett, it speaks to my former teammates. So I’m grateful to have this opportunity.

“It’s a huge accomplishment, and I’m thankful.”

During his five years at UVA, Brogdon earned two degrees: a bachelor’s in history from the College of Arts and Sciences and a master’s from the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. He considering leaving for the NBA after the 2014-15 academic year, but “I had the right people in my ear, telling me to stay, telling me to develop my game further, and telling me to finish my education,” Brogdon said.

“And I thought that was one of the best decisions I made in my 24 years. I couldn’t be more thankful for those people that helped me make that decision, and I can’t be more thankful to Coach Bennett and my teammates for making that year special enough to allow me to move on [to the NBA].”

Hanging in JPJ are banners with the names and numbers of the members of the elite club Brogdon joined Monday night: Buzzy Wilkinson (14), Barry Parkhill (40), Wally Walker (41), Jeff Lamp (3), Ralph Sampson (50), Bryant Stith (20) and Sean Singletary (44). (Parkhill, Walker and Singletary were at JPJ on Monday night.)

“I thought there was a possibility that I could go up there,” Brogdon said, “but I knew in order for me to get up there, I had to not focus on that. I had to focus on the right things, and that was winning games and being the person that I needed to be. And that’s a person of character and someone that works hard on and off the court, and is a good role model for those who look up to me.”

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