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By Jeff White (
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. –– Long before the opening tip Wednesday night, Purdue fans packed Mackey Arena –– picture University Hall with about 6,000 more seats –– and they were in full voice for all 40 minutes of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge men’s basketball game that followed.
“Great atmosphere,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “Terrific. That’s as good as it gets.”
UVA’s performance, however, was about as bad as it gets. The grit and resolve that are signatures of Bennett’s program were rarely evident in this one as the Boilermakers battered the fifth-ranked Cavaliers 69-40 in front of a sellout crowd of 14,804.
“When you go against a team that’s that well-coached and that intense and that physical, it kind of takes your breath away,” Bennett said, “and we played on our heels all game.”
Not since Dec. 30, 2013, when they lost 87-52 at Tennessee, had the Wahoos suffered such a one-sided defeat.
The 40 points they scored were a season low for the reigning NCAA champion Hoos (7-1). The 69 points they allowed were a season high. Virginia totaled 16 turnovers, shot 16.7 percent from 3-point range, and lost most of the battles for 50/50 loose balls.
“They took whatever they wanted away from us,” Bennett said, “and then they got whatever they wanted offensively.”
The Boilermakers (5-3) shot 52 percent from beyond the arc, outrebounded UVA 31-26, and turned the ball over only seven times.
“They came out way more motivated than we were,” said redshirt junior Jay Huff, who led Virginia with 11 points. “Their home floor, their atmosphere, really got them going. But a lot of that was on us, too. We just didn’t come out ready, and it showed from the start. Then toward the end we just kind of gave up fighting.”
Nobody inside Mackey Arena had forgotten happened when Virginia and Purdue met last spring in the Elite Eight at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. In one of the greatest games in NCAA tournament history, UVA forced overtime on a last-second shot by Mamadi Diakite and then prevailed in the extra period.
Many of the key players from that game are now in the NBA, but Purdue fans desperately wanted to see that loss avenged Wednesday night, and they were not disappointed.
Virginia led 5-3 early, but the Boilermakers went ahead to stay on a 3-pointer by Sasha Stefanovic with 18:16 left in the first half. In the first start of his college career, the 6-4 sophomore hit three treys in the first 3:30.
In the Elite Eight game against Virginia, Stefanovic played two minutes and didn’t attempt a shot. He scored a game-high 20 points Wednesday night, making 6 of 10 shots from beyond the arc.
“Sasha got ’em going right away –– bang, bang –– with such a quick release,” Bennett said.
Virginia went scoreless for a first-half stretch that lasted more than nine minutes. Even so, the Cavaliers twice cut their deficit to 12 late in the half and seemed to have steadied themselves, but a 3-pointer by 7-3 Matt Haarms sent the Boilermakers into the break with a 15-point lead.
“We didn’t have an answer for anything,” Bennett said. “Our defense, which is what we’ve tried to hang our hat on when we’re struggling to score, couldn’t stop ’em inside, couldn’t stop ’em outside, couldn’t keep ’em off the glass.
“That’s a recipe for disaster.”
For the second straight game, UVA played without 6-8 senior Braxton Key, its best rebounder and an excellent defender. Key had wrist surgery last week, and it’s unclear when he’ll return. He has not yet been cleared to practice.
“He is our most physical, toughest rebounder,” Bennett said. “In a setting like this … you have to have some of that, because they played volleyball on the glass.”
Sophomore swingman Kody Stattmann returned for UVA after missing four games with an illness, but he was ineffective, missing four of five shots from the floor, including all three of his 3-point attempts.
Diakite, a 6-9 fifth-year senior, scored all 10 of his points in the first half. Sophomore point guard Kihei Clark, who came in averaging 9.6 points per game, was scoreless until the 1:01 mark of the second half.
“They really came out and punched us in the face,” said Clark, one of the heroes of Virginia’s Elite Eight win over the Boilermakers. “They were pretty motivated for this game, and I thought we came out pretty slow. We didn’t match their physicality coming out.”
Bennett played at Mackey Arena as a Wisconsin-Green Bay guard and coached there as a Wisconsin assistant. “I understand the intensity of this place and the physicality, and we didn’t match that,” he said. “And they played terrific.”
With Key unavailable, Bennett tried a variety of lineups Wednesday. Walk-on Chase Coleman, a 5-9 freshman, played alongside the 5-9 Clark in the backcourt at times, and sophomore walk-on Jayden Nixon also played.
“Our inexperience, it showed in a big way,” Bennett said.
So did UVA’s shortcomings at the offensive end. The Cavaliers were coming off a game in which they scored only 46 points against Maine at John Paul Jones Arena, and against a rugged Purdue defense, they failed to reach that modest mark.
For the season, UVA is 38 of 160 (23.8 percent) from 3-point range. Purdue “took any post-up opportunities away and basically made us a perimeter, outside-shooting team, which has been a challenge,” Bennett said. “We’ve got a lot of improving to do. There’s no question.”
SOLID EFFORT: Among the four freshmen who played for UVA was Justin McKoy, a 6-8 forward from Cary, N.C. McKoy played 11 minutes and 55 seconds off the bench, hit all three of his shots from the floor, and scored a season-high six points.
“He played hard,” Bennett said. “He played aggressive. You gotta start looking at who’s willing to compete and be physical … Justin McKoy gave us a lift, if there’s a such a thing as a lift in a game like this, but he gave us some good minutes, for sure.”
SOUND BITES: The loss snapped Virginia’s five-game winning sreak in the Challenge. Among the postgame comments:
• Bennett: “I had a feeling there was going to be extra motivation [for Purdue] in that setting, but take that out of it. They cleaned our clock, and they deserve all the credit. We’ve got to respond.”
• Bennett on Purdue: “This was a real physical, hard-nosed, tough team. That’s what the ACC’s about, too. So we’re going to have to tighten the screws and get better and better and find ways. Hopefully we can get Braxton back.”
• Purdue head coach Matt Painter: “Any time you want to loosen up a defense that’s trying the prevent the ball from getting in the paint, and they’re so good at that, you gotta be able to make some shots to get them to adjust.”
• Huff: “It’s an easy game when shots are falling. It’s a hard game when [they’re] not.”
• Huff on the Boilermakers: “They were really scrappy tonight. They really wanted it, and so that’s kind of how a lot of their fast-break points ended up happening, and then even on fast breaks that they would miss, they’d all be there for the rebound.”
• Huff on Stefanovic’s marksmanship: “Props to him. The dude can shoot.”
• Clark on the Boilermakers’ home-court advantage: “I thought the crowd gave them great momentum. It was kind of similar to Duke. It was a great atmosphere.”
• Clark on the effect the Cavaliers’ poor shooting had on their defense: “It shouldn’t affect us at all, but today I think it got into our head a little bit.”
UP NEXT: Virginia, which opened the season with a 48-34 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, is home for its second ACC game. 
At 4 p.m. Sunday, UVA (7-1, 1-0) hosts No. 7 North Carolina (6-2, 1-0) at John Paul Jones Arena. The game, originally scheduled for Saturday, was moved to Sunday to avoid a conflict with the ACC football championship game.
“This is the type of game that makes you eager for the next one,” Huff said Wednesday night. “Can’t think of much else than the next one after a game like this.”
Clark said: “We’ll definitely try to learn from [the Purdue loss] and try not to dwell on it too much, because we’ve got a big game coming up next.”
The Virginia-UNC game, which is sold out, will air on ACC Network. Carolina lost 74-49 to No. 6 Ohio State in Chapel Hill, N.C., late Wednesday night.
The Cavaliers have won four straight over the Tar Heels and seven of the past 10 meetings.
After facing North Carolina, UVA won’t play again until Dec. 18, when Stony Brook visits JPJ for a 6:30 p.m. game. That, too, will air on ACC Network.