In an anticipated clash of styles, West Virginia swung first at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. The Mountaineers didn’t deliver a knockout punch, though, and Virginia made them pay. The Cavaliers absorbed the early blow, slowly jabbed their way back, and eventually won on the scorecard, 70-54.
The Wahoos have won seven straight games to reach 8-1 entering their exam break.
“We were shaky to start,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said per The Associated Press. “Everybody was with the pressure that West Virginia put on. We got punched in the mouth. We were to be within six at halftime, but we clawed our way back a little bit. We looked lethargic, but it’s a credit to them and how hard they play.”
In the first 18 minutes, WVU (7-1) imposed its style on the game as Bob Huggins’ team forced turnovers and climbed all over the offensive glass. The Mountaineers turned 11 first half turnovers by Virginia into 10 points and they added 10 more points on 9 offensive boards. By the time that Tarik Phillip back-tapped a steal away from Marial Shayok and then leaked out for a layup at the 2:24 mark, West Virginia led 35-23.
The Cavaliers stayed on their feet, though. After a near turnover led to an intentional foul call on WVU as Phillip tried to prevent a run-out situation, UVA scored a free throw and a dunk on that possession. That started a 7-1 run to end the half as the Hoos clawed back to 36-30 at the break.
After intermission, it looked like that run might be short-lived. Virginia opened the second half with three more turnovers and two missed layups in the first 4:23 as West Virginia maintained its lead at 40-35. UVA’s defense, however, had settled in and that let the Hoos start to take control of the game. From Phillip’s basket at the 2:24 mark of the first half until the 11:54 mark of the second half, WVU had just one field goal. With the improved defense and rebounding, West Virginia scored just 4 second chance points with 4 offensive rebounds in the second half. The Mountaineers made 6 of 20 shots in the second half, just 30.0%.
”I can’t imagine we’re as bad as we are,” Huggins said. ”If we’re going to shoot it that bad, we shouldn’t shoot it. I watch them every day. I know we take bad shots, out of rhythm, off balance. We don’t do a very good job of stepping into shots.”
That left only one more thing to clean up: the turnovers. With the three early turnovers in the second half, Virginia had 14 in the first 24:30 minutes. Over the final 15:30, however, the Cavaliers turned the ball over just 5 more times and that helped them pull away. They ended up making 14 of 19 shots in the second half, a sizzling 73.7%, after they started to take care of the ball.
Virginia guard London Perrantes ignited the second half rally after a shaky first half performance. Playing just nine days after an appendectomy, Perrantes had 0 points and 2 turnovers in the first half in addition to 2 fouls. He had only 1 assist. While he made a 3-pointer to start UVA’s second-half scoring, he did miss a layup and committed 2 turnovers in the first 7 minutes after intermission.
That second turnover proved to be a critical turning point in the game. Perrantes had the ball stolen against a trap and Jevon Carter streaked ahead in a 2-on-1 situation against Perrantes. With a layup seemingly available, however, Carter tried to slide the ball to a teammate with a behind-the-back pass that Perrantes deflected into the waiting hands of Malcolm Brogdon. Perrantes sprinted up the left side of the floor and spotted up for a 3-pointer on the left wing that splashed through the nets to ignite the Cavalier bench and supporters.
That triple gave UVA a 42-40 lead and it never trailed again. Perrantes, meanwhile, was masterful after that sequence. He had just 1 turnover the rest of the game, but logged 7 more points and 3 assists. In all, he posted 13 points and 3 assists in the second half.
“The first half was terrible,” Perrantes said on the ESPN broadcast. “I was trying to get my feet wet and was trying to come back. I think I had a little bit too much pressure on me in the first half and in the second half, I just came out and played freely. I got some open shots and knocked them down and got the ball to open teammates. It’s good to get this win regardless of how I played.”
Perrantes joined Brogdon and Darius Thompson as the three perimeter starters in the game and all three scored in double figures. Brogdon and Thompson tallied 14 and 10 points, respectively.
The monster line of the night, however, belonged to Anthony Gill. The senior post put up season-high numbers with 20 points and 12 rebounds in the win. Gill made 9 of 11 shots and committed just 2 fouls in 36 minutes of action. He started his scoring with a dunk in the first minute and kept up the paint assault throughout with a variety of layups, tip-ins, and dunks.
That performance helped the Cavaliers win the paint battle, 44-34.
“He played great,” Malcolm Brogdon said per The Daily Progress. “That takes pressure off me and the other scorers. He came up huge.”