Cavaliers Cruising Toward ACC Opener
Dec. 20, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, ACC play begins Dec. 30 against Boston College at John Paul Jones Arena.
With one non-conference game remaining, the 13th-ranked Cavaliers have navigated that portion of their schedule with little difficulty, and Tuesday night brought another one-sided victory.
The opponent this time was Savannah State. UVA scored the first 12 points and cruised to a 78-47 win over the overmatched Tigers, who are in the midst of a stretch of seven straight road games.
“I think we have a pretty good feel of who we are,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “But we obviously know how good the ACC is, that goes without saying, and I think you’ll continue to be in so many tough battles against high-level competition, and we just have to keep improving.”
The only Tiger to make at least half of his field-goal attempts against UVA (10-1) was junior forward John Grant Jr., who was 7 for 12 — all from 3-point range. Grant, who wears jersey No. 4, came in averaging 3.3 points.
“I think those guys were road-weary tonight,” Bennett said. “You could see it.”
He smiled. “Not number 4. He liked JPJ.”
Every Cavalier except freshman forward Francesco Badocchi, who’s redshirting, played at least four minutes against the Tigers (3-11). Led by redshirt sophomore Mamadi Diakite (10 points), UVA’s reserves combined for 34 points.
Among the starters, sophomore point guard Ty Jerome scored a career-best 17 points and redshirt junior center Jack Salt matched his career high with 10 points. Salt also had five rebounds and three blocked shots.
Jerome, who came in shooting 38.5 percent from the floor, made 6 of 9 shots Tuesday night, including all three of his 3-point attempts. He added four rebounds and three assists in his 19 minutes.
“He’s a neck-up player, as we say, and he was sharp tonight,” Bennett said.
Jerome said: “I think I just do a disservice to this team, especially against better competition, if I’m not aggressive, so that could be impacting the game in a lot of different ways, whether it be on the defensive end, the offensive end, or finding the right guys at the right time. Just being aggressive and making the right decision is what it’s really about.”
None of the Wahoos’ starters — Jerome, Salt, senior forward Isaiah Wilkins, fifth-year senior guard Devon Hall and sophomore guard Kyle Guy — played more than 21 minutes. That meant extended playing time for underclassmen such as redshirt freshmen Jay Huff and De’Andre Hunter and true freshman Marco Anthony.
“The starters did a good job,” Bennett said. “Sometimes when [players] came in off the bench, we weren’t as sharp and we had some lapses there. But those are valuable playing minutes and opportunities for those guys to get experience and play through mistakes, work defensively against teams that are trying to shoot it quick and get down the floor.”
The 7-1 Huff had six points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, but fouled out in his 16 minutes. The 6-7 Hunter made 7 of 8 free throws but was 1 for 5 from the floor.
“They show flashes,” Bennett said. “It’s just [a matter of] becoming consistent. That’s why those minutes in that setting are very important for those guys.”
Bennett is in his ninth season at UVA, where his record is 198-84. The Cavaliers lost at then-No. 18 West Virginia on Dec. 5 but have won their other non-conference games by an average margin of 21 points.
“I like the leadership,” Bennett said. “I think that’s emerged as I thought it would with Isaiah and Devon and Jack, our captains. We talked about empowering them from Day One and they’ve done a good job, and we’re continuing to try to find different guys at different times to step up and score. Those are some things that we’ve seen and hopefully we’ll continue to evolve and develop.”
THEY SAID IT: Available for interviews after the game were Bennett, Salt, Jerome, Huff, Hunter and Anthony, as well as Savannah State head coach Horace Broadnax, a former Georgetown standout. Among their comments:
* Broadnax on his team’s brutal non-conference schedule: “We don’t need to be in the ACC. I’m glad that’s our last game in the ACC. We’ll move on to the Big Ten and play Michigan State.”
* Bennett on the 6-10, 250-pound Salt’s performance: “Jack used his physicality, and it was good to see that. Any time we can get some interior scoring, that helps us.”
* Salt: “Stats don’t really bother me too much. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team win. So if we get a win at the end of the day, I’m pretty happy.”
* Anthony on adjusting to the college game: “It’s just way faster in all aspects, especially always being in the right spot on defense. With that Pack Line, you’ve always got to be in the right spot, or [the opponent is] going to score.”
* Bennett on Hunter, one of the team’s most physically gifted players: “It’s been a little inconsistent with De’Andre. He got to the line, which was good. I like how he’s evolving a defender. With his length, he’s embraced that role … I think defensively he’s coming. I think he has to find himself or his niche offensively.”
* Hunter: “It’s not hard to stay positive, because my teammates always pick me up. They always say, `Just stay ready and be in the moment. Don’t really worry about [playing] time, but when you’re on the floor try to make an impact.’ “
WHAT’S NEXT? The Cavaliers have one more game before their short holiday break. At 7 p.m. Friday, UVA meets Hampton (4-8) at JPJ.
Virginia is 8-0 all-time against Hampton, which like Savannah State competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
In their most recent meeting, the Cavaliers defeated the Pirates 81-45 in the NCAA tournament’s first round on March, 17, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Lower-level bleacher seats remain available for the Hampton game in sections usually occupied by UVA students. To purchase tickets, click here.