March 4, 2017

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — After his last game at John Paul Jones Arena, the site of so many memorable Virginia victories during his celebrated career, London Perrantes walked off the court arm in arm with Tony Bennett.

It was a bittersweet moment for player and coach, but both can draw comfort from this fact: Perrantes’ UVA career is not over.

Virginia is the No. 6 seed in the ACC tournament, which starts Tuesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Then will come a fourth straight trip in the NCAA tournament for the Wahoos, whose last such run came in the 1980s.

“Just knowing that it’s not over is huge, just knowing that I’ve got some more games to play with the team and with this coaching staff.” Perrantes said Saturday afternoon after Virginia closed the regular season with an emphatic 67-42 victory over ACC rival Pittsburgh.

“Obviously, it’s a tough day for me, not getting to play here again, but I’m glad we all came out here and played well and got the win.”

In Brooklyn, at approximately 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, UVA (21-9 overall, 11-7 ACC) will face No. 11 seed Georgia Tech (17-14, 8-10) or No. 14 seed Pitt (15-16, 4-14), which meet Tuesday. Virginia earned a first-round bye.

With a three-game winning streak, the `Hoos are as hot as any team in the ACC. (Wake Forest, which knocked off Virginia Tech on Saturday in Blacksburg, also has won three in a row.)

“We’re definitely on the right track,” freshman guard Ty Jerome said. “We know what we have to do now. Like Coach Bennett says, we found our way, but to let down for a second even would be a great mistake. So we gotta keep fighting. We’re rolling now, but we can’t fall asleep for a second.”

Virginia had few lapses Saturday against a Pitt team whose two best players — seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis — were held out for the first 10 minutes and 6 seconds after violating team rules.

“We’re trying to establish a culture here of doing the right thing,” said Kevin Stallings, who’s in his first season as Pitt’s head coach.

In the Panthers’ overtime win over the visiting Cavaliers on Jan. 4, Artis scored 24 points and Young added 19. By the time they checked in Saturday, UVA had a 19-2 lead, and Pitt never seriously threatened thereafter.

The Panthers didn’t make their first field goal until the 8:57 mark of the first half.

This was not the same Virginia team that stumbled in Pittsburgh. In that game, the Panthers shot 53.7 percent from the floor overall and 61.9 percent from 3-point range. Pitt made only 15 of 45 field-goal attempts Saturday as UVA held its opponent to fewer than 44 points for the second straight game.

The `Hoos opened the week with a 53-43 win over No. 5 North Carolina at JPJ.

“They’re in great position,” Stallings said of UVA defenders. “They guard the ball well. They get to their double-teams quickly. They contest shots really well. There’s really no aspect of their defense that’s not very, very solid.”

Before the game Saturday, Perrantes and student-managers Max Barab and Logan Ford were honored in a Senior Day ceremony. Thunderous applause washed over Perrantes as he stood at midcourt with his family, and signs in the stands reflected the fans’ affection for the 6-2 point guard from Los Angeles.

One sign read: 4 More Years.

“He’s such an awesome guy,” said UVA center Jack Salt, a redshirt sophomore. “Good teammate. Good friend. Everyone wanted this game for him, and we’re so happy that we could all give him this game.”

In the locker room, Bennett said, “I [told] the guys before the game, `A way to serve London is to lay it on the line,’ and I so wanted it to go well for him.”

It could not have gone much better. Perrantes hit 8 of 12 shots from the floor, including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, and finished with a game-high 22 points. He also had three assists and a steal before leaving to one final standing ovation with 1:57 remaining.

In front of the UVA bench, Bennett embraced Perrantes, “and I said, `We’ve had a lot of good times out on this court, haven’t we?’ and he said, `Yes, we have.’ ”

Bennett, one of the best shooters in NCAA history, played for his father, Dick, at Green Bay. They walked off the court together after the younger Bennett’s final home game.

Bennett has never forgotten that moment, and so “I waited for London and I said to him, `I want to walk off this court with you with my arm around you, because we have experienced special things.’ And I’m very grateful for his decision to come to Virginia. We’ve had so many special players, but he’s been a catalyst for what’s happened, and that brought me great joy just to be able to do that.”

Perrantes said: “Walking off the floor with Coach Bennett was huge. He gave me this opportunity. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have had the success that I’ve had, and the program would not have had the success that it’s had without him.”

This marks the fifth straight season Virginia has won at least 11 conference games. Especially encouraging to Bennett is this group’s recent return to form at the defensive end. The Cavaliers’ success in eight seasons under Bennett can be attributed in large part to the Pack-Line defense that’s their trademark.

“That’s our formula,” Bennett said. “I don’t know if it was an epiphany that happened in the Carolina game, but you fight all year to convince your players and convince yourself, `This is our way. This is how we have to play.’ ”

Perrantes wasn’t the only Cavalier who sparkled against Pitt. The 6-11 Salt, who played less than two minutes in the Jan. 4 game in Pittsburgh, pulled down a career-high nine rebounds in 19 minutes. Five of those boards came at the offensive end.

“I think I made an error at Pitt,” Bennett said, “because I feel like I should have used him more.”

Salt said: “It happens … It wasn’t my game, but I was ready for this game if they needed me, and they did, so I was ready.”

Redshirt junior Darius Thompson came off the bench to score eight points in 24 minutes. Thompson, who had not made a 3-pointer since Virginia’s Jan. 29 loss to Villanova in Villanova, sank two treys Saturday.

He was thrilled about finally “seeing a shot go in,” Thompson acknowledged. “It seems like it’s been forever, but just going out there and playing and doing some good things definitely helped my confidence.”

And then there were the youngsters. In 22 minutes off the bench, 6-9 redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite totaled six points and four rebounds. Jerome, in his third career start, contributed 13 points, three assists and two steals, with no turnovers, and another freshman guard, Kyle Guy, hit two treys.

“Ty played extremely well tonight, and Kyle did too,” Perrantes said. “Everybody played well, and I think [the program] will be in good hands [after this season].”

Two plays late in the game stood out. On the first, Jerome drove into the lane and then passed out to Perrantes, whose 3-pointer from the left wing made it 59-32.

Two minutes later, Pitt again left Perranates open on the left wing. Guy passed him the ball and then, before the shot even left Perrantes’ hands, raised his arms in triumph. Like a shot scripted in Hollywood, Perrantes’ final 3-point attempt at JPJ dropped through the rim, and the crowd roared its approval.

When he checked out for the final time at JPJ, Perrantes embraced Jerome near midcourt.

“I said, `It’s not yours yet. It’s not your program yet. I’ve still got some games left to play,'” Perrantes told reporters, smiling.

“But he’s coming into his own. It’s good to see. For him to grow over this year — the only year that I have with him — is huge. His confidence is through the roof right now, and we need it now, but we’re definitely going to need it next year and in the years to come.”

For now, of course, this remains Perrantes’ team. He’ll head into his final ACC tournament having earned the respect of coaches around the league.

“He’s just a great competitor,” Stallings said. “I think he’s a competitive, gutsy kid who wants to take and make big shots. He plays for his team, and I think the thing that is easiest to admire about Tony’s team is that there is complete buy-in to what they do and each other. I think that when you get that, your whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.”

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