Spurred by its trademark defense and a career-high 19 points from junior guard Marial Shayok, the Virginia men’s basketball team earned a 62-49 win over ACC rival Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon in John Paul Jones Arena.
Cavalier coach Tony Bennett’s Pack Line defense, gashed in a loss to Pittsburgh on January 5 and shaky at other times in ACC play, didn’t start well but finished strong. UVA, which grabbed an early 22-10 lead over Tech in the first seven minutes, surrendered 28 points on 57.9% shooting in the opening 15:34 of the first half. Georgia Tech got to within one point at 29-28 on freshman Josh Okogie’s jumper at the 4:26 mark.
The defense tightened from that point on, though, holding Georgia Tech scoreless the remainder of the first half as Virginia stretched its lead to seven points at halftime. Georgia Tech got no closer than five the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Hoos led by as many as 16 points in the second half before securing the victory.
The Yellow Jackets scored only 21 points on 34.8% shooting in the final 24 minutes and 26 seconds of play. Who or what was the key to UVA’s defensive turnaround?
“Well I think it started with Jack [Salt],” UVA junior forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “He did a good job on their big. He was averaging fifteen or so and Jack made all of his catches and looks tough.”
Salt, a 6’10” redshirt sophomore, played a career-high 35 minutes and helped hold Tech center Ben Lammers to 7 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Lammers, who also had 7 boards, entered the game with eight double-doubles and averaging 14.9 points per contest. Salt also spearheaded a 7-2 Virginia advantage on the offensive boards, resulting in 9 second chance points for the Hoos compared to zero for the visitors.
In the end, Salt finished with 5 points, 6 rebounds (3 offensive), 1 block and 1 steal. UVA freshman guard Kyle Guy indicated afterward that the team gave their starting center a standing ovation in the locker room postgame.
“There were some great stat lines, but I don’t think there were any better than the way Jack impacted the game,” Bennett said. “Ben Lammers is a good player and he made him earn everything. He played with his hands free, he fought his position and showed his strength, and that was impressive. I love seeing that, and it was a huge key for us in the game because that guy can score and make some big plays.”
Wilkins led a strong defensive effort against Tech senior forward Quinton Stephens, who averaged 11 points per contest prior to Saturday’s game. He was held to just 6 points (2 of 6 from the field, 2 of 4 from 3).
“I was just trying to make sure Quinton [Stephens] didn’t have any open shots. He’s super tall so you have to be there when he catches it or he’ll just shoot over you,” said Wilkins, who recorded one block against the Georgia Tech standout.
Offensively, UVA struggled from beyond the arc, making just 5 of 22 from 3. The Hoos also struggled some with turnovers, many unforced, giving up 11 in total. Virginia was led in scoring by Shayok with 19, London Perrantes with 11, and Devon Hall with 10. The Cavaliers bench outscored Georgia Tech’s 12-4, with Guy coming through with 6 points (3-of-7 shooting) in 18 minutes.
Fourteen of Shayok’s 19 points came in the second half. The 6’5” standout now has scored in double digits in five of his last six outings. Since becoming a starter four games ago, Shayok has scored 17 points twice and now 19 points against Georgia Tech. All three of those outings either matched or set new career-highs.
“It has just been being ready to step up when my team needs me,” said Shayok, who was on the court by himself over an hour before the game working on his shot. “I have been playing confident and shooting my shots with confidence. I work on my game a lot and it shows the work that I’ve put in. My teammates trusted me and that’s just a credit to all of them.”
Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner was highly impressed with Shayok’s performance, saying, “He’s really good. I think he’ll play in the NBA. I think he’ll get a look in the NBA. I don’t say that loosely. I’m very careful to say that because it’s very hard to play in the NBA. It’s nearly impossible. But he’ll have a look. He’s a good player. He reminds me of the guys that Tony [Bennett] had a couple years ago like Joe Harris. He’s different but that type of level. He’s really good. He’s going to have a chance to play at the next level. He’s a good player.”
Perrantes, UVA’s senior leader, scored all 11 of his points in the first half. The Wahoos’ point guard is now the fourth player in school history to score 1,000 points and dish out 500 assists.
“That guy has been a part of a lot of winning,” Bennett said of Perrantes. “That is impressive. His completeness and his steadiness have been so good. You saw that in him from his first year here, and that is no small thing. For a guy who is so unselfish to score that many- 1,000 points, 500 assists – I like that. We are going to keep twisting the knife on those turnovers [Perrantes had four turnovers against GT]; I don’t know if he is going for that [record as well]. That is uncharacteristic of him. He is such a key to this team, and he makes big shots. What three-and-a-half years that he has had.”
Virginia has rattled off four straight wins – all in the ACC – since back-to-back losses to Florida State and Pittsburgh to raise its conference record to 5-2. The No. 16 Cavaliers (15-3) hit the road for a couple of big-time away challenges next week. First up is an ACC tilt versus Notre Dame on January 24. Top-ranked Villanova then awaits the Hoos on January 29.