Dec. 16, 2017

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In his four varsity seasons at Cape Henry Collegiate in Virginia Beach, Devon Hall said Saturday, he never led the basketball team in scoring.

Now a fifth-year senior at the University of Virginia, Hall may well end his college career with a similar streak. But he’s emerged this season as one of the Cavaliers’ most potent offensive weapons.

That was apparent again Saturday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena. Hall, a 6-5 guard, scored a career-high 20 points to help 16th-ranked Virginia vanquish Davidson 80-60. He hit 7 of 12 shots from the floor, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range, made both of his free throws and also had five rebounds, five assists and one blocked shot.

“He’s a jack of all trades,” Davidson head coach Bob McKillop said, “and what he did today was, he extended it to the 3-point line.”

Hall came in shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc, but he’d attempted only about three 3-pointers per game. Against the Wildcats (4-4), he was more aggressive from long range, and his assertiveness paid dividends for the Wahoos (9-1).

“I work on my shot every single day,” Hall said, “so any [time] I feel like I’ve got some space, I’m going to shoot it with confidence.”

As a redshirt junior last season, Hall was the third-leading scorer (8.4 ppg) on a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second round. This season, only sophomore guard Kyle Guy (17 ppg) is scoring more for the `Hoos than Hall (13.3 ppg). Moreover, he’s first on the team in assists, first in 3-point percentage, and tied for third in rebounding.

“What an example of a guy who just has gotten better and has been steady and understands his game,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said. “We need him to be more assertive, and he’s doing it kind of step by step. At times this year when we’ve needed it, it’s been there. At times he knows when to be patient. And that’s part of that experience. That’s a guy who’s paid the price in developing his game.”

Hall is one of the Cavaliers’ captains, along with senior forward Isaiah Wilkins and redshirt junior Jack Salt.

“I think that a part of me being a leader is knowing what I have to do,” Hall said. “So me being aggressive whenever I get the ball is something I put in my mind before the game started. I’ve worked my butt off to be in the spot I am now, so why not have the utmost confidence in myself?”

Hall wasn’t the only standout for the Cavaliers in their first game since a Dec. 5 loss at then-No. 18 West Virginia. Classmate Nigel Johnson, a graduate transfer from Rutgers, scored a season-high 22 points and also had three rebounds, three assists and four steals in 26 minutes off the bench. Guy scored 14 of his 19 points during a second half in which UVA never trailed.

“I thought Nigel gave us a terrific lift in the first half and Devon was really good in the second half,” Bennett said, “and Kyle got rolling as well … [With 61 combined points], they made a difference. I really liked how assertive they were.”

Less conspicuous, but equally important, were the contributions of the 6-7 Wilkins, who finished with eight points, a game-high eight rebounds, two steals and one assist in 34 minutes. He also guarded Davidson’s top player, forward Peyton Aldridge, who came in averaging 21.7 points per game.

Aldridge scored 20 points Saturday but turned the ball over five times.

“That’s typical Isaiah,” Bennett said. “He does it all … He knows how to play. He knows what we need. He knows himself. Devon understands himself. That’s a powerful thing when a player understands who they are as a player and as we continue to learn who we are as a team.”

McKillop, who’s in his 29th season at Davidson, is one of the college game’s most respected coaches, and his team came in leading the nation in 3-pointers made per game (13.1), assists per game (20.7), and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.42).

Against Virginia’s rugged Pack Line defense, the Wildcast were 8 for 26 from beyond the arc and finished with nearly as many turnovers (13) as assists (14).

Still, the Cavaliers did not seize control immediately. At the first TV timeout, the Wildcats led 8-2. At the second TV timeout they led 14-9, and at the third they led 18-16. Virginia didn’t take its first lead until Johnson dropped in a floater with 7:11 left in the first half.

That his players were able to spend considerable time preparing for the Wildcats, who often put five 3-point shooters on the court, worked to UVA’s advantage, Bennett said.

“If you’re not prepared for how hard they run their stuff and the different actions, they’re going to get wide-open looks,” Bennett said. “And they still have to make them, but I thought they run great stuff … [McKillop is] a heck of a coach, and he does a terrific job, and those guys play hard and the right way.”

As many other visiting coaches have at JPJ, McKillop raved about the Cavaliers’ defense after the game.

“Everyone talks about what great defenders they are in the gaps, and they are,” McKillop said. “They’re extraordinary. But their ball pressure … got deflections and forced us to dribble into gaps. And the combination of those two things, I think, led to the turnovers, which were very uncharacteristic of us. I thought that was the pivotal part in the game, and that’s a tribute to Virginia’s defense.”

The 6-1 Johnson, who soared for a breakaway dunk late in the game after coming up with his final steal, adds a disruptive element that the `Hoos have not always had on the perimeter.

“You see his speed and his burst getting down the floor [on] a couple steals,” Bennett said. “I thought he was really sound and really good that way defensively, as well as hitting the [3-pointer] touching the paint and getting transition buckets. I was really happy for him.

“That’s kind of our team this year. Sometimes it’s a different guy, but I liked what I saw from him, and we needed it all, because that score isn’t indicative of how much of a challenge [the Wildcats are], because they can score in spurts.”

THEY SAID IT: There was much to discuss after the Cavaliers’ first game in nearly two weeks. Among the highlights:

* Johnson on Hall: “He knows everything Coach wants, and he’s been part of the program for five years. Just to see him be the one to come out this year and be as steady as he is, and consistent, is big for him and big for all of us.”

* Johnson on his second-half slam: “As soon as I got the steal and I saw that the man I took it from fell, my eyes lit up and I knew it was me and the rim with nothing behind me and nothing in front of me. I just knew I was going to try to tear the rim down and get the crowd going and get my first dunk of the year that hopefully starts the trend of many more to come.”

* McKillop on the Cavaliers’ prowess at both ends of the floor: “I’ve been around a long time, and Princeton’s offense used to wear people down. Tony combines his offense and his defense together to wear you down. [On defense] you’re chasing those screens, chasing those screens, chasing those screens … They just run you off screen after screen after screen, and they’re pretty darn patient about it. And then you go to the offensive end, and you’re fighting for every possession. So, yes, [UVA] is a very dangerous team this year. They’re always been dangerous, but I think in particular this year they’re going to be very dangerous.”

* Bennett on sophomore point guard Ty Jerome, who’s been struggling: “That’s part of it for players, for college athletes, when they’re either not getting to play as much or they’re not hitting their shot, or they’re in a little slump in certain ways. Will you keep staying true to who you are as a player and work through it? That’s just part of life. That’s part of being a good player.”

* Hall on defending the Wildcats, whose 48-percent field-goal percentage Saturday was the highest Virginia has allowed this season: “It was tough. I’m not going to lie … I don’t think we’ve guarded anything like that before. That’s why Coach Bennett wanted them on the schedule.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Virginia will play two more games before Christmas, both at JPJ.

Tuesday at 7 p.m., UVA hosts Savannah State (3-9). Friday at 7 p.m., the Cavaliers’ opponent will be Hampton (4-7).

This will be the first meeting between Virginia and Savannah State, which averages the most possessions per game (86.6) of any team in the country.

The `Hoos are 8-0 all-time against the Pirates. In their most recent meeting, UVA hammered Hampton 81-45 in the NCAA tournament’s first round on March, 17, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Of the Cavaliers who played in that game, only Hall, Wilkins, and Salt are still in the program.

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