The Virginia basketball team has turned Thanksgiving trophies into a tradition in recent seasons.
The Cavaliers captured their fourth straight regular season holiday tournament title Saturday night by dispatching Providence, 63-52, in the Emerald Coast Classic championship game. Over the previous three season, the Hoos won the Corpus Christi Challenge, the Barclays Center Classic, and the Charleston Classic as well.
So far in the 2016-17 season, UVA owns a 6-0 record with every win coming by 11 points or more.
”I think we have to rely on our depth,” Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett said on the CBS Sports Network broadcast. ”I think we know who we are. Our way maybe isn’t real flashy. We’re not going to throw knockout punches, but we’re going to keep jabbing and hopefully wear you down through the course of the fight.”
The boxing analogy appeared apt for the game against Providence. The Cavaliers never really landed a knockout blow, but built a double-digit lead over the final eight minutes of each half to keep the Friars at arm’s length for most of the night. The Hoos ended the first half with a 14-4 run over the final 7:26 that produced a 14-point lead at intermission. Then after Providence closed to within 5 points twice in the second half, Virginia slowly pulled away again and led by double digits for the final 7:36.
With a game still competitive on the scoreboard in the second half for the first time this season – the Hoos had led by double digits for all but 7:35 of 100 second-half minutes in the first five games of the year – UVA’s experienced players rose to the occasion.
London Perrantes, the eventual tournament MVP, came through first. When the Friars closed to 34-29 with a 9-0 start to the second half, Perrantes came off a screen and drilled a 3-pointer to stop the momentum shift. He finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and just 1 turnover. The senior point guard left Providence coach Ed Cooley impressed.
“Perrantes may be the most poised player I’ve seen in college basketball in a long time,” Cooley said in The Roanoke Times.
Providence clawed back to 41-36 by the 11:35 mark when Darius Thompson drove to earn a trip to the free throw line. He made just one of the freebies, but that started a 13-6 spell where Thompson accounted for 8 of the 13 points. Thompson scored on two backdoor alley-oops from Perrantes, hit two free throws, and drove to drop off an assist to Mamadi Diakite, who also made a 3-pointer in that stretch.
Thompson matched Perrantes for the team lead with 11 points. He added 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Thompson has scored in double figures in five games this season. Diakite, who did not fit the veteran theme in the second half’s big moments, added 10 points thanks to 2-of-3 shooting from 3-point range and 3 blocked shots. UVA also got 9 points, 3 steals, and 2 rebounds from Isaiah Wilkins, who joined Perrantes on the ECC all-tournament team. Jack Salt chipped in career best numbers with 8 points and 6 rebounds as well.
On the other side of the ball, Virginia held Providence to 37.5% shooting. The Friars did get a game-high 16 points from Rodney Bullock, including an 8-8 night at the free-throw line, who plays the stretch forward role that can give the Hoos trouble at times.
Overall, Bennett liked his team’s balance once again in a win.
”I think it was solid,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. ”They’re hard to guard. They run good screens, good action – they make you work. We talk about just trying to outlast them. I think we let it get a little too tight. But it’s good to be in a game like that to figure that out and knowing that it could be anybody on the floor. I think we have 10 able guys and they all gave us nice lifts. I’m sure I can find some things where they broke down, but we’ll keep working.”