By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — A sellout crowd packed the Siegel Center in Richmond on Friday for the showdown between the men’s basketball teams from VCU and the University of Virginia.
For UVA redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter, the scene was unlike anything he’d experienced as a college player. His first two games, after all, came in the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena, not in a venue where thousands of fans were rooting against the Cavaliers.
The Siegel Center “was a lot different than being here,” Hunter recalled Sunday. “It was really loud in there. I’ve never been in an environment like that, but overall it was fun. We got a great win on the road.”
In the Cavaliers’ 76-67 victory over the Rams, Hunter played seven minutes and scored two points. Back at JPJ on Sunday afternoon, the 6-7, 222-pound swingman was a much bigger factor in UVA’s 73-53 win over Monmouth.
In 24 minutes off the bench, Hunter made 8 of 10 shots from the floor and 6 of 7 from the line. He finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, both career highs.
“Man, I didn’t know he was that good!” said Monmouth head coach King Rice, a former University of North Carolina standout.
UVA’s coaches have long known that the team’s redshirt freshmen, Hunter and 7-1 Jay Huff, have tremendous promise, and each has already had an impact this season. In the Wahoos’ second game, a 93-49 win over Austin Peay, Huff scored 16 points and Hunter had 13, and between them they were 10 of 11 from the floor.
Against Monmouth (2-2), Huff totaled two points, two rebounds and three blocked shots in 13 minutes.
“I told you guys from the get-go, you’re going to see flashes from De’Andre and Jay,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said Sunday. “They’re going to show you their upside and exciting things. There’s going to be times where there’s going to be some ups and downs, but you certainly saw a nice flash [from Hunter against Monmouth].”
The key for both players, Bennett said, is stringing together their good performances.
“But I was very happy for DeAndre,” Bennett said. “Again, he’s just got to keep coming and take this as a good experience and grow.”
Hunter, who’s from Philadelphia, said his coaches regularly “tell me I have talent, but I just need to stay as consistent as possible, and I’ve been trying, just staying true to my routine and staying confident in my game, and I hope it’ll happen soon.”
The `Hoos trailed 15-8 when Hunter took his first shot Sunday, a pullup jump shot. It dropped through, starting a 14-0 run that would include 10 points by Hunter.
“He just kept getting to his spots and scoring,” Rice said.
At the other end, the Hawks struggled against UVA’s trademark Pack-Line defense, hitting only 33.3 percent of their field-goal attempts. For the Cavaliers, that was a marked improvement from Friday, when VCU shot 45.6 percent and outrebounded them 36-26.
Virginia totaled 33 rebounds Sunday, to 28 for Monmouth. Three Cavaliers had at least five boards apiece: Hunter, Diakite (six) and senior forward Isaiah Wilkins (five). Moreover, the `Hoos came up with nine steals, with Wilkins, sophomore guard Ty Jerome and fifth-year senior Nigel Johnson recording two each.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” Bennett said of his team’s defense. “It’s really about trying to be in position, but scrambling. Sometimes you have to cover for mistakes, and when you have Isaiah anchoring it, you’re usually in good shape, and then you’ve got to finish on the glass. I thought VCU got into the paint and hurt us on the glass, and we tried to be sharp with that [Sunday].”
For Guy, this was his fourth straight game with at least 13 points. The story of this UVA victory, however, was the bench production. Sixty percent of the Cavaliers’ points came from reserves, led by Hunter and Diakite.
Guy, an exceptional shooter, figures to be a threat offensively in every game, “but different guys at different times can be scorers,” Bennett said, “and it’ll be spread out that way, so that probably will be our way this year.”
The 6-9 Diakite fouled out with 4:42 left, and he needs to work on defending without using his hands too much, Bennett said. “But again, I thought De’Andre and Mamadi showed you some real good flashes today.”
Johnson, a 6-1 guard who played at Rutgers last season, made only 2 of 7 attempts from the floor Sunday, and true freshman guard Marco Anthony was 1 for 4. What’s important, Bennett said, is that they continue competing in games when their shots aren’t falling.
“We always look for guys that keep fighting,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to be good collectively. And for our new guys, Jay, De’Andre, Marco and Nigel, there’s always an adjustment period, but you’ve always got to keep bringing the heart, keep bringing the fight. That’s really important for our program.”
THEY SAID IT: Bennett, Rice and three UVA players (Hunter, Diakite and Guy) answered questions from reporters after the game. Some of the highlights:
* Guy on whether defenses are paying him more attention this season: “Yeah, I think there’s more of a mark on my back this year, just [after] being able to shoot it and score a little bit last year. That’s why I think my pump fake is helping so much, and being able to put in on the floor and get to the basket, I think that helps a lot.”
* Diakite on his rebounding: “That’s the thing I’m best at. So I keep doing it as much as I can, so I can bring something to the table.”
* Rice on facing ACC opponents: “Sometimes you play in these games and you have a chance, and sometimes you play in these games and you see why Tony’s one of the best coaches in the country. Today, I felt like we got shown all of our warts, and that’s what Virginia does to you.”
* Rice on Bennett: “He’s such a disciplined coach, and when you’re watching his teams play [on TV or videotape], you see it, but you don’t really see it until you’re out there with your kids.”
WHAT’S NEXT? The Cavaliers will leave Wednesday afternoon for Brooklyn. In the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center, Virginia meets Vanderbilt at 4 p.m. Thursday in a game that will be televised by ESPNU.
This will be the first men’s basketball game between these schools since Dec. 5, 1995. The Commodores lead the series 5-1.
On Friday night, UVA will meet No. 22 Seton Hall or Rhode Island. Those teams play each other Thursday.
Barclays Center is the home of the NBA’s Nets, whose guards include former UVA great Joe Harris. The ACC tournament was held there last season and will be back there in March.
After its two games in Brooklyn, Virginia will return home to take on Wisconsin in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Cavaliers will host the Badgers at JPJ on Nov. 27. ESPN2 will televise the 9 p.m. game, for which a limited number of tickets remain. Click here to purchase tickets.
“It’s a good little three-game stretch for us,” Guy said. “It’ll ultimately help us in the long run.”