Throughout Saturday’s game at the John Paul Jones Arena, Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett stopped players as they subbed out of the game. He gestured. He taught. He listened. He challenged. He encouraged.
While Bennett always does that during games, these moments seemed more frequent, more prolonged, and more pointed toward future outings. Mamadi Diakite, Jarred Reuter, Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Jack Salt, and player after player received at least one pit-stop with the head coach on the way to the bench.
Never mind that the Hoos cruised past Robert Morris, 79-39, Bennett had his eyes dialed in to details and the increasingly tough schedule that lies ahead. UVA closes out 2016 with California, Louisville, and Florida State before the rest of the ACC schedule and Villanova await in 2017.
”There were some opportunities there,” Bennett said. ”I saw some things. I mean I know I heard one of the guys, it might have been London [Perrantes] – I thought Jarred could have had a couple of rebounds and he didn’t go after them and we gave up some offensive rebounds and I heard London say ‘We’re going to need him. We’ve got to get this right.’ We’re going to need Ty, we’re going to need Jarred, we’re going to need Mamadi. We’re going to need all these guys. They’re all going to play. We’ve got to kind of shrink our lapses. There were some things I saw and I let them know. I said forget the score, play. If you get split on a ball screen, you don’t go for a rebound, that won’t fly next game. You aren’t going to have a 30-point cushion. You guys have to get comfortable with the fact that if we’re playing well, we’ll probably be in a lot of close games and then those out of bounds defensive plays, defensive rebounds, sureness with the pass, all of those things are significant.”
It didn’t seem like Virginia’s lapses bubbled up that often, at least statistically, against the Colonials. UVA shot 59.6% from the field, while holding RMU to 23.9%. The Hoos logged more assists (21-7), rebounds (39-21), blocks (7-1), bench points (41-14), second-chance points (14-2), and points in the paint (48-8). Robert Morris had 13 turnovers and made just 4 of 15 3-pointers. Only Isaiah Still cracked double digits with 16.
On the flipside, Virginia had 11 turnovers and placed four players in double digits. Hall and Kyle Guy led the way with 13 points each, while Reuter and Salt added 10 apiece. Wilkins added 7 points and 6 assists, while Ty Jerome chipped in 5 points and 6 assists too.
That all accounts for the 40-point margin of victory. Still, the lapses were notable too. Those came in the form of fouls for example; UVA’s three freshman combined for 9 fouls, including Diakite fouling out with 5. That sent RMU to the line 23 times, though the visitors converted just 13 of those attempts. There were some careless turnovers where a Robert Morris player simply jumped a passing lane on an outlet or inbounds pass. The Colonials scored an easy layup on a baseline inbounds play too in the first half.
The Cavaliers also started slow after the 10-day break for exams. Robert Morris moved in front several times in the opening minutes and maintained a 13-12 lead as late as the 6:30 mark of the first half.
“I did not think we were solid early,” Bennett said. “We were sluggish in terms of the pace of running our offense. Defensively, we were okay. I did not like what I saw, but I liked how they responded in the second half. We went inside a little more and did what we needed to do. They struggled to shoot the ball. That is one thing with Robert Morris, they have had a hard time at the free-throw line, and that I think plagued them today. I just wanted the guys to play regardless of the score.”
The Hoos finally shook off the slow start in the final seven minutes of the first half, thanks in part to a four-guard lineup. With Marial Shayok checking in at power forward, the hosts had several players on the floor that could drive and challenge the defense. That appeared to open things up and UVA rattled off a 13-0 run that eventually ballooned to 20-5 by halftime. That produced a 32-18 edge at intermission that never wilted.
During that key stretch, Perrantes jumpstarted things with a tough driving layup and Darius Thompson followed up with a twisting runner that he initially planned to pass. Hall asserted himself from there with a jumper, a pair of free throws, and an offensive rebound dunk in transition all in a row. He later added a corner 3-pointer during the run that started to increase the spread for good.
“We were really laboring to score,” Bennett said. “We went with a four-guard lineup, and I thought that opened up the court. Devon had a couple of nice drives, London got to the rim, and Darius threw in that circus shot. Devon is always an intense player and he is physical, and I am glad for him to have a little success, either a drive and a finish, making a three, or getting to the line. He has been having a little trouble, percentage-wise, finishing some shots, so I thought that was good, and I thought that his physicality and his intensity were needed.”
Hall, who has started every game this season, matched his career high with his 13 points. He also added a season-high 5 rebounds and did not commit a turnover. He said he is comfortable with his role on the team and that UVA’s depth helps the players share the load. That’s working so far as Virginia pushed its record to 9-1 with Saturday’s win.
“I’m extremely comfortable with my role and the way we have things,” Hall said. “We’re so deep on the bench and guys can score any day. So just being ready and aggressive each time, knocking down shots when you’re open, and getting in the lane is big.”