When the Virginia basketball team loses this season, it does it in heartbreaking fashion.
Villanova handed the Hoos their fourth loss of the season on Sunday, 61-59, courtesy of a buzzer-beating tip-in. Donte DiVincenzo scored his only points of the day on that final shot to lift the No. 1 Wildcats to victory.
UVA’s previous losses came in similar fashion. Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon hit a 3-pointer with 2 seconds to go and Pittsburgh won in overtime. Even the West Virginia loss early in December featured a tie score with 1:44 remaining.
”It was a great atmosphere and we had our chances and we’ll grow from it,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. ”I hope it was good for both of us. I wish we could have come away with a win. But it’s the middle of the season or a little bit past, hopefully it will be good for us down the stretch.”
In a toe-to-toe showdown with reigning National Champion Villanova for the second straight season, Virginia couldn’t hold off a late second-half surge from the hosts. The visitors led by double digits at 49-37 when Marial Shayok knocked down a jumper with 10:05 remaining, but the Wildcats responded. They put together a 13-0 run over the next 4:33 to move in front 50-49, a run fueled in part by UVA turnovers. The stretch started with London Perrantes on the bench with three fouls.
During the critical comeback, Josh Hart spotted up for a 3-pointer in transition after a Nova steal and made it. After another steal, Kris Jenkins hit a 3-pointer to rapidly cut the lead to four points. Later Jenkins made another triple on a baseline inbounds play and Jalen Brunson capped the 13-0 spurt with a pair of free throws.
The trio of 3-pointers during this stretch accounted for nearly half of that category for Villanova on the day. The hosts made 7 of 16 shots from behind the line. They also had a lot of success behind the other line: the charity stripe. The Wildcats converted 20 of 24 free throws in the win, while the Cavaliers made all three of their attempts.
”Just tighten up the breakdowns,” UVA freshman Ty Jerome said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. ”Shots are going to go in and out. I missed one in and out at the end of the game. London missed one in and out at the end of the game. We’re going to miss [some] open shots – we got good ones, but they went in and out. But the turnovers can’t happen because those led to fastbreak points and got the crowd into it and that’s how they got going. Just the defensive breakdowns, the little ones, we played so hard for so long like coach said, but to have those little breakdowns kills us.”
Jerome, who made 3 of 6 3-pointers on the day, had a big hand in Virginia’s answer to that Villanova surge. After the Wildcats took the lead, Jerome scored 6 points in the final 4:23. That included a clutch driving shot with 17 seconds to go after Nova snuffed out a designed look for Devon Hall, who finished with 7 points and 3 assists.
Virginia’s Marial Shayok and Perrantes also scored once each in the final five minutes. Shayok’s layup ended the Nova run and gave him 14 points for the game, his eighth outing in the last nine games with at least 10 points. Perrantes, meanwhile, hit a driving shot late, but finished 2-of-11 shooting in the game for 4 points. He did have 6 assists. Isaiah Wilkins chipped in 12 points and 8 rebounds too.
Jerome and Perrantes also saw clean 3-point looks circle the rim, but not fall through the net in the final 1:52.
”If you watched the Notre Dame game, he’s been steady,” Bennett said of Jerome. ”He’s a gamer. He doesn’t wow you with his athleticism, but good size and good feel. He got off to a great start knocking down those 3’s and just made some tough plays. He got people off of him and those little floaters in the lane. We needed all of that.”
Jerome’s career-high 15 points certainly stole the show late. The freshman’s final bucket set up the last-second fireworks. That’s when DiVincenzo flew into the spotlight with a tip-in shot to get the win.
On the final play, Villanova ran a dribble handoff weave type of action to get Hart on the move. He tossed up a shot in the paint over the outstretched arms of Hall, but his drive also drew the attention of Jerome and others in help defense. When the shot fell off the rim, DiVincenzo launched out out of a full sprint from the corner to get his hands on it just in the nick of time.
”We talked about trying to make them earn and block out – guys will be flying in there,” Bennett said. ”He went flying in on the baseline, streamed in, and I think that might have been Ty’s blockout. I’ll have to watch the tape and I mean Ty made so many big plays. We were trying not to foul – we talked about that. I wish it was two-tenths of a second slower, but it wasn’t.”