Of all the preseason forecasts for the Virginia basketball team, few predicted a season-opening Cavalanche. That’s exactly what the Cavaliers delivered at UNC Greensboro on Friday night, though. The Hoos bridged the two halves with a 30-2 outburst that left the Spartans reeling en route to a 76-51 win.
UVA never trailed after hitting a trio of 3-pointers in the first four minutes to establish an early lead that never wilted.
”I thought in the first half we had a real nice way about us in terms of intensity,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. ”That’s really important. This team is going to have to play so hard and so hungry. I thought we were flying around. Their big guys hit a couple of 3’s, but I thought we stayed continuous whether it was trapping the post or showing on ball screens because they move around a lot. For the most part, I liked our tenacity and our position defensively in the first half and obviously got some clean looks and good things offensively. ”
Virginia spread the wealth on offense with four players in double figures, while shooting 52% from the floor. Marial Shayok led all scorers with 15 points off the bench. His night included making 5 of 5 free throws. Darius Thompson added 12 points, including two of the early 3-pointers that created the early lead. Thompson saw a school record tying streak of 8 straight 3-pointers end eventually, though. London Perrantes and Isaiah Wilkins added 10 points each.
After UNC Greensboro closed to 17-15 with three 3-pointers in less than two minutes, two of those players helped start the decisive surge that led to victory. Shayok made a layup and Perrantes followed with a 3-pointer on the next possession. The 30-2 run that eventually grew out of those two baskets featured a lot of contributions, though. Devon Hall and Kyle Guy each hit 3-pointers, while Jack Salt and Wilkins each made layups for example.
At the end of the night, that represented the balance overall as well. In addition to the four double-digit scorers, Salt and Guy chipped in 7 points each. Hall added 5 points and 4 rebounds, while Jarred Reuter deposited 8 points and 6 rebounds.
”I think a key of our’s is going to be balance,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. ”I think we’re a team that’s a balanced scoring team. We’re going to have to be that way. … It was good to see Darius knock down some 3’s. London hit a couple. That helps. … I like the balance and I think that’s going to be significant.”
The Cavalanche, however, truly came to life thanks to Virginia’s defense. The Hoos held the Spartans scoreless for the final 8:40 of the first half and for a stretch of 11:19 in total. UNC Greensboro shot just 37% for the game, including a rough 31.8% in the first half. To make matters worse, the hosts also committed 13 turnovers with only 7 assists.
Interestingly enough, UVA grabbed 8 steals as part of those 13 turnovers. Shayok led that effort with a career-high 3 steals. The Hoos didn’t sustain the suffocating first half defense throughout the second half, but all in all it looked like a solid season-opening effort for the Pack-Line defense.
”I thought a little bit in the second half, I don’t know if we got too cutesy or not, but a couple of gambles and short-cutted the screen and they got an easy bucket,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. ”When they really attacked us off the bounce, we didn’t guard as well on the ball defensively. … I think we have to do a good job on the ball.”
Virginia’s home opener comes Tuesday night at 7 p.m. when St. Francis Brooklyn comes to the John Paul Jones Arena. The Hoos get back the services of Austin Nichols and Mamadi Diakite for that one. Nichols sat for an undisclosed violation of team rules, while Diakite sat out due to an NCAA ruling. Bennett did say on the pregame radio show, however, that the plan is to redshirt true freshmen Jay Huff and De’Andre Hunter this season.