By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.– On a night when Houston’s loss to Temple shrunk the list of undefeated men’s basketball teams in Division I to two – fourth-ranked Virginia and second-ranked Michigan — one of those unbeatens put on an offensive show on the road.
Before a crowd that included a strong showing of its supporters, UVA shot 60 percent from the floor in an 83-56 win over Boston College late Wednesday night at Conte Forum. His team’s defense was not up to its usual standards, head coach Tony Bennett said, but that didn’t cost UVA in its ACC road opener.
The Cavaliers (14-0 overall, 2-0 conference) eclipsed the 80-point mark for the fourth time this season.
“I think it’s a versatile offensive team, and I think our offense won us the game tonight,” Bennett said.
Of Virginia’s starters, only junior guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome shot less than 50 percent from the floor. Each was 4 for 9. Of the others, redshirt junior Mamadi Diakite was 9 for 12, redshirt sophomore De’Andre Hunter was 6 for 11, and fifth-year senior Jack Salt was 3 for 3.
Off the bench, junior Braxton Key was 4 for 5, redshirt sophomore Jay Huff was 2 for 2, and freshman Kody Stattmann was 1 for 1.
The Wahoos, who led by 12 at the game, broke away from BC (9-5, 0-2) for good with a 16-0 run in the second half.
“Offensively, we were just kind of cooking and got some easy ones,” Bennett said, “and it covered up for our lapses on defense.”
The victory, the Cavaliers’ sixth straight over BC, stretched their winning streak in ACC road games to 11 – the fourth-longest in conference history.
“We just treat it like every other game, whether it’s home or away,” Hunter said. “We stick to the game plan, what the coaches tell us to do, and we just try to execute that as best we can.”
The Cavaliers are off to their best start since 2014-15, when they won their first 19 games. Their formula for success away from John Paul Jones Arena hasn’t changed over the years.
“We always say, ‘Don’t beat yourself. Take care of the ball. Don’t give up transition buckets, and don’t give up second-chance points,’ ” said Bennett, who’s in his 10thseason at UVA. “If you just do those things at a pretty high level, you’re going to be in games.”
With Danny Ainge, the Boston Celtics’ general manager and president of basketball operations, sitting in the front row near midcourt, across from Virginia’s bench, one of the players he came to scout, the 6-7, 225-pound Hunter, totaled 18 points, six rebounds and two assists.
Hunter scored 13 points in the second half.
“I felt like I was just being aggressive,” he said. “I was attacking the basket more and not really settling for jump shots, and I feel like that helped me a lot.”
The Cavaliers encountered little resistance when they had the ball, and they outrebounded BC 41-21.
Key, a 6-8 transfer from Alabama, had a game-high nine rebounds, his most as a Cavalier. The 6-2 Guy matched his career high with eight boards, and the 6-9 Diakite had a season-high seven.
Diakite also blocked two shots, but his most memorable plays came at the offensive end of the floor. He matched his career high with 18 points – his previous high against an ACC opponent was 12 – and gave the Cavaliers another formidable weapon.
“His game is coming, and he’s getting more consistent,” Bennett said. “That’s encouraging, for sure.”
Jerome said: “He was great for us … We’re getting deeper and deeper, and different guys keep stepping up.”
The Cavaliers were less than perfect on defense, but they limited BC guard Ky Bowman, who came in averaging 20.4 ppg, to 15 points.
“We knew he was a great player,” Hunter said. “We knew it was going to be a team effort, not just one person. He hit a couple early shots on me, but I just tried to keep him out of the lane and have him shoot contested jump shots.”
The Eagles, who were without the injured Steffon Mitchell, a 6-8 sophomore, shot only 38.6 percent from the floor against Virginia’s Pack Line defense. But the stat sheet didn’t tell the whole story, in Bennett’s opinion.
“They were in our paint,” he said. “They really got to where they wanted, and I thought they just missed a lot of shots. We were behind the play defensively, and you could just feel it. I don’t like that feeling [of], ‘Man, I hope they’re missing,’ and that’s what it felt like. But we answered offensively and had some decent stands defensively.”
HOME AWAY FROM HOME: It’s not uncommon for Virginia fans to make themselves heard in opponents’ venues, and so it was at BC’s 8,606-seat Conte Forum. The official attendance Wednesday night was 5,736, and many of those fans came to cheer on the Cavaliers.
With 2:42 to play, Huff’s dunk pushed Virginia’s lead to 80-50. A TV timeout followed, and as another wave of BC fans headed to the exits, a chant rang out inside the arena: “Let’s go, Wahoos! Let’s go, Wahoos!”
“That was really nice,” Hunter said of the UVA fans’ presence. “I wasn’t expecting that, honestly, but having them here, it just makes it feel like kind of a home game.”
Jerome said: “The fact that they travel is awesome. We love the support. They mean a lot to us. Our home atmosphere is amazing, so for them to travel too, it’s pretty awesome.”
The crowd included former UVA standouts Lee Raker and Keith Friel. Raker and Friel played for head coaches Terry Holland and Pete Gillen, respectively, at Virginia.
THEY SAID IT: After Bennett’s postgame press conference, Hunter and Jerome took questions from reporters outside Virginia’s locker room. Among the Cavaliers’ comments as midnight approached:
* Bennett on his team’s defensive lapses: “[The Eagles] exposed some areas. They just happened to miss some shots. They got a lot of open looks. They got down the floor on us, and there’s areas there that need to be tightened up.”
* Bennett on the 225-pound Key, who leads the team in rebounds (5.7 per game): “Braxton has strong hands, he’s a strong guy, and that’s the one thing I really like: his offensive and his defensive rebounding. He can go up, and he can get bumped, and he can kind of snatch it, and that’s so important. That’s a natural thing for him, and that’s welcomed.”
* Jerome: “We approach every game the same. We know we have to be extra sharp on the road, but we’re just trying to win every single game we play, on the road or home, neutral site, whatever it is.”
* Jerome: “Being on the road, you really have to keep your poise, so I try to make sure everybody’s calm, everybody stays locked in and through adversity stays calm.”
QUICK TURNAROUND: On Saturday, Virginia plays its second straight road game, this one at Clemson. At noon, the ‘Hoos (14-0, 2-0) meet the Tigers (10-5, 0-2) at Littlejohn Coliseum.
UVA has won eight straight over Clemson and leads the series 76-52.
In the Cavaliers’ most recent visit to Littlejohn, they won 77-73 on Jan. 14, 2017. Clemson’s football team had recently won the national title that year, too.
“We’re really looking forward to it, because we just talked about how live that atmosphere was two years ago,” Jerome said. “It should be another awesome atmosphere.”
Clemson lost 61-53 to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday night.