'Hoos Heading Home to Regroup
March 10, 2017
NEW YORK — Win or lose Thursday night, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team knew it would play again this season.
But now, after falling in the ACC quarterfinals for the first time since 2013, UVA can afford no more postseason missteps.
On Sunday night, the Cavaliers (22-10) will learn where they’re headed in the NCAA tournament — a No. 5 seed appears likely — after which the stakes will rise considerably for a team that came to this city Monday ranked No. 21 nationally.
In the NCAA tournament, it’s “win or go home,” junior guard Marial Shayok said late Thursday night after No. 6 seed UVA’s 75-63 loss to No. 3 seed Notre Dame at Barclays Center.
The Fighting Irish (24-8) still have at least one more game to play in Brooklyn. At 9:30 p.m. Friday, they’ll take on No. 2 seed Florida State (25-7) in the second ACC semifinal. FSU ousted No. 7 seed Virginia Tech 74-68 in the third quarterfinal Thursday.
For Notre Dame, its victory over UVA, which had won 10 straight in the series, was anything but routine. Since joining the ACC, the Irish had beaten every team in the league except Virginia before Thursday night.
“It’s a great win for us,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “Obviously, we’ve not had much success against the Virginia program. It’s nice to get the first one when the stakes are really high.”
The Irish, as a top-4 seed in Brooklyn, had a bye into the quarterfinals. The Wahoos played late Wednesday night, defeating Pittsburgh 75-63, and they appeared sluggish when they returned to the Barclays Center floor 24 hours later.
The Irish “looked fresh, and we weren’t as fresh physically or as fresh mentally as we’ve been in the past against them,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said.
“I know we played a game last night,” junior forward Isaiah Wilkins said, “but at this time of the year I think it’s just that the hungrier team is going to win the game.”
Virginia led only once, at 2-0, and shot 38.6 percent from the floor. The Cavaliers’ defense wasn’t much better. Four players scored in double figures for the Irish, who shot 52.2 percent from the floor.
“They came out with a lot of energy,” Virginia freshman guard Ty Jerome said. “They wanted to prove they can beat us, and they proved it. I think when we’re right we still can beat anybody, but we obviously showed that when we’re not right we can lose to anybody.”
Jerome, who scored 11 points against Pitt, played his high school ball at Iona Prep, about 25 miles from Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Nets. He contributed 10 points and game-high six assists, with no turnovers, against Notre Dame. Two other UVA guards, however, struggled mightily Thursday night.
Against Notre Dame, they missed 16 of 17 shots between them. Guy (0 for 8) went scoreless. Perrantes (1 for 9) finished with a season-low three points and had three turnovers.
“I felt sort of out of rhythm,” Guy said, “and the whole team sort of felt like that from time to time.”
At the break, Virginia trailed by only six points and appeared to be well-positioned for a comeback. But the Fighting Irish scored the first 11 points of the second half, after which there was little suspense in an arena in which only a smattering of fans were left at game’s end.
“They came out and they hit us early, and we were trying to claw back,” Wilkins said. “We did a good job of fighting, we didn’t give up, but once they jumped on us, it was tough. They executed well and they played well, so we’ve got to learn from this. I’d rather learn this lesson now than next week.”
The Cavaliers won’t play their first game in the NCAA tourney until Thursday at the earliest, and the 6-7 Wilkins figures to be benefit from the break. He’s been battling an illness that’s depleted his reservoir of energy and reduced his effectiveness.
“I’ll definitely try to take care of my body, try to get some of my weight back and get back healthy and get ready to play, whenever we do,” Wilkins said.
After starting Virginia’s first 26 games, Wilkins came off the bench in the final three games of the regular season. He started against Pitt on Thursday night but played only 14 minutes in a reserve role against Notre Dame.
“Obviously it’s not an excuse, and I don’t think it had much to do with the outcome tonight,” Wilkins said, “but I was [struggling] a little bit, I’m not going to lie. But Notre Dame just outplayed us tonight, regardless of me being 100 percent or not.”
Virginia’s early exit from Brooklyn might “be a blessing in disguise,” Bennett said, “if [Wilkins] can get some more rest and recover.”
With Wilkins’ role limited, 6-7 sophomore Jarred Reuter came off the bench to score nine points, his most since Jan. 4, in 13 minutes.
Redshirt junior guard Devon Hall scored 12 points and matched his career high with nine rebounds to lead UVA. Even more encouraging for the `Hoos was the play of Shayok and redshirt junior guard Darius Thompson.
Shayok, one of the Cavaliers’ most dynamic offensive players for much of the regular season, has been mired in a shooting slump, but he was 4 for 6 from the floor against Notre Dame.
“I was happy to see some of his offensive prowess come back,” Bennett said, and so were Shayok’s teammates.
“A lot of guys struggled tonight offensively,” Wilkins said, “so for him to be able to get going and find a groove right before tournament time, it’s cool. We’re definitely going to need him.”
Shayok finished with 10 points, his first game in double figures since Virginia’s Feb. 18 loss at North Carolina.
“I just tried to bring energy,” Shayok said. “I thought we needed that tonight. I’ll do whatever I can to help. It was obviously good to see some shots fall down, and hopefully it’ll continue, along with the team’s shots.”
Thompson, who hit two 3-pointers Wednesday night against Pitt, stayed hot Thursday. He matched his career high with three treys and scored 12 points.
“That’s huge,” Perrantes said when asked about the contributions of Shayok and Thompson, “especially going into the [NCAA] tournament. We need everything we can get.”
The `Hoos will head home to Charlottesville on Friday afternoon knowing a fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament awaits them. They also know, however, they won’t last long in the NCAAs if they play as poorly as they did against Notre Dame.
“I think it kind of just started with our defense,” said Perrantes, who’ll leave UVA with a 7-3 record in ACC tournament games.
“We gave up some easy looks at the beginning of the game. Obviously, we’re not going to make every shot, but I think giving up some easy looks kind of takes the air out of us, and knowing that we’re not supposed to or we shouldn’t be giving up easy looks kind of messes with our head, I guess you could say, especially with some of the young guys.”
Shayok said: “This is where we’ve got to just trust in our leadership, trust in London, trust in myself and Isaiah and Devon, the older guys, and help our young guys as much as possible. I think we’ll be all right, but it’s a good wake-up call. We need to learn from this, and hopefully we did.”
Asked about his experience at his first ACC tournament, Jerome said, “I don’t think it’s that much different from the regular ACC play, honestly, it’s just that if you lose you go back and start preparing for the NCAA tournament.
“You just learn the same thing you learned during the ACC regular season: If you’re not right, you’re going to get beat.”