'Hoos Grind Out Win in Opener
Nov. 10, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At times sharp, at other times sluggish, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team opened the season Friday night with a 60-48 victory over UNC Greensboro at John Paul Jones Arena.
These programs met on opening night last season too, at the Greensboro Coliseum, where the Cavaliers dominated the first half and won 76-51.
The rematch was tighter. From a team that finished 25-10 last season, UNCG returned 11 letter-winners, including its leading scorer, guard Francis Alonso. The Spartans shot only 29.4 percent from the floor Friday night and turned the ball over 17 times, but they battled throughout.
“Nothing came easy, really, on the defensive end or the offensive end,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said. “I think both teams were really going at it.”
Virginia built a 19-point lead early in the second half, but the Spartans twice cut their deficit to eight late in the game.
“I felt like we were close to, I’m not saying breaking the game open,” Bennett said, “but we were a few possessions away from imposing what we wanted to do.”
In Greensboro, UNCG coach Wes Miller said Friday night, his team “didn’t play with [Virginia] at all. The game got away from us early and stayed away from us. So I was proud that we found a way to kind of dig back in it there in the second half and cut it to eight.”
Sophomore guard Kyle Guy scored 14 points in the first half Friday night and finished with a game-high 16. Guy hurt his back Sunday in UVA’s closed scrimmage against Villanova in Philadelphia and didn’t practice until Thursday, and then only on a limited basis.
“That was good,” Bennett said, “to see him out there being aggressive.”
Guy said: “Coach has been on me all offseason to shoot the ball whenever I’m open and try to create for myself and others, and that’s what I tried to do.”
The Cavaliers’ other sophomore starter, 6-5 point guard Ty Jerome, struggled early but came on late. He finished with seven points, three turnovers and two steals.
“I thought Ty settled in,” Bennett said. “I thought early Ty needed to probably be a little sounder.”
Fifth-year senior guard Devon Hall (13 points) joined Guy in double figures, and senior forward Isaiah Wilkins led the Wahoos with eight rebounds and three blocked shots and also had nine points and two steals. But the `Hoos turned the ball over nine times in the second half, and for the game UNCG outrebounded them 36-30. Sixteen of the Spartans’ boards came at the offensive end.
“I liked what I saw in stretches,” Bennett said. “There’s certainly areas, of course, we have to clean up.”
Virginia’s veterans — Hall, Wilkins and redshirt junior center Jack Salt — combined for 28 points and 18 rebounds.
“It’s a newer team,” Bennett said. “Our experienced guys [have] been in more supportive roles, and now they’re taking little bigger roles.
“The new guys, I think it’s a process, and hopefully they’ll get more and more comfortable and know when to be assertive and then know when to let it come. And I think that’s a balance that was lacking at times by a lot of guys tonight.”
SOLID DEBUT: One of those new guys is graduate transfer Nigel Johnson, a 6-1 guard who grew up in Northern Virginia. In his first game as a Cavalier, Johnson played 20 minutes. He finished with seven points, six rebounds, two turnovers and one block.
“It was great, especially getting to play in front of the [home] fans,” said Johnson, who previously played at Kansas State and Rutgers. “It was a pretty good experience. Now that I’ve got the first one out of the way, I feel like I can get settled in a little bit and just play basketball from here on out.”
Bennett said Johnson “gave us a dimension that I felt like we needed and had a couple big baskets for us late.”
WAITING GAME: Redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter, in his first college game, went scoreless in 10 minutes. The Cavaliers’ other redshirt freshman, 7-1 Jay Huff, did not play against UNCG. Neither did true freshman Marco Anthony.
I told them after the game, `Stay ready. You’re going to get your chances,’ ” Bennett said.
THEY SAID IT: Bennett, Miller and several UVA players fielded questions from media members after the game. Among their comments:
* Miller: “We learned a lot from playing Tony’s team last year, because of the way they guard. I think it’ll be something we can take a lot from this year as we move forward, because we’re not that bad shooting the ball and we’re not that bad turning the ball over. I just think their defense is that good.”
* More Miller: “[The Cavaliers] imposed their will on us in every way style-wise tonight.”
* Hall: “I think it is a matter of going back to the drawing board after each and every game and learning. You find out what our strengths and weaknesses are and try to learn from them.”
* Bennett: “We played a solid team with some veterans, and we’re still finding who we are.”
WHAT’S NEXT? Before traveling to Richmond for a Nov. 17 clash with VCU, Virginia will play another game at JPJ.
At 7 p.m. Monday, UVA (1-0) takes on Austin Peay (0-1), which lost on opening night to Vanderbilt.
This will be the first meeting in this sport between Virginia and Austin Peay, which is located in Clarksville, Tennessee, and whose basketball alumni include the legendary Fly Williams.
As a freshman in 1972-73, Williams averaged 29.4 points per game.
Tickets are available for Monday’s game starting at $12. To purchase tickets, click here.