Mired in a four-game losing skid with the offense struggling, the Virginia basketball team couldn’t have picked a better road building than PNC Arena in Raleigh. The venue has been a friendly place to play for the Hoos in recent years and that trend continued in a 70-55 win against NC State on Saturday.
The streak-busting victory gave UVA its ninth straight win at PNC Arena, including NCAA Tournament play. The first NCAA Tournament run for Tony Bennett at Virginia, a Sweet 16 push in 2014, and last season’s Elite Eight appearance both started in Raleigh too. Regardless of where the win came, the Cavaliers were happy to stop the program’s longest slide since 2010.
”Just a good, hard-fought win,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. ”I told our guys, I quoted an Al McGuire quote, the euphoria after a win is one of the greatest feelings, but after a defeat knowing that you’ve got a group of guys that you can lose with and that they’ll stick together is maybe more important. I think that’s obviously what we’ve experienced and we just keep knocking.”
The Hoos entered the NC State game not only on a losing streak, but in a significant offensive funk as well. They managed only 144 points combined against Duke (55), North Carolina (41), and Miami (48 in overtime), which ESPN Stats & Info Tweeted had not happened for the program in a three-game stretch since 1951. This struggle included back-to-back halves that matched the fewest points in any half this year (19 in the second half at UNC and in the first half against Miami). UVA set a new season-low for assists with 7 against Miami too.
The team also shot less than 37% in all three games. That included shooting 10 of 52 from 3-point range, a paltry 19.2%.
Virginia flipped the script on all of those numbers against NC State, which owns the worst scoring defense in the ACC by allowing 80.1 points per game. UVA converted 48.9% of its shots en route to 70 points, including a blistering 11 of 16 from 3-point range. That 68.8% shooting from beyond the arc set a new season high. On a day where Isaiah Wilkins played limited minutes and Darius Thompson didn’t play at all, both due to illness, the sharp shooting was needed.
Freshman Kyle Guy led the long-range assault by making 5 of 7 3-pointers. That pushed him to a new career high for ACC play with 19 points. He added 4 rebounds and 2 assists as well. Devon Hall canned both of his 3-pointers and posted a new career high of 18 points. He also matched a career best with 9 rebounds. Ty Jerome made his only 3-point attempt and chipped in 5 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals.
”Yeah, so I don’t really believe in slumps. I expect every shot to go in,” Guy said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. ”But when they’re not falling, it definitely takes a toll especially when everyone on your team’s not hitting. We just tried to stay positive. [Isaiah] has been tremendous at keeping our heads up in the locker room and it was great to see shots go in today, but that’s what we expect for every game.”
The biggest slump buster on the day, however, was London Perrantes. The senior guard ended up with a double-double with 16 points, 10 assists, and only 1 turnover. He knocked down 3 of 5 triples en route to 16 points. In the previous five games, Perrantes had made 7 of 35 3-pointers, a 20% rate that plummeted to just 12.5% over the last three games. Perrantes’ day included a key 3-pointer in the second half when NCSU had climbed to within 8 points on the scoreboard.
“I think early, you know, he just struggled,” Bennett said. “It’s like when you’re missing shots, you’re missing putts, whatever, how do you find it, but you just keep playing, you try to get to the line, draw a foul. You try to have your whole game be your strength, not just be identified, or to have your emotions go by if my shots falling. We’ve missed a lot of good looks, we’ve missed free throws, we’ve done things that have cost us, and there is such a big to-do about it from the media and rightly so, I guess it’s covered that way. So you have to be able to put the blinders on and say, ‘I’m just going to keep plugging. Find different ways to impact.’ That’s why I liked him creating, him guarding Dennis [Smith Jr.], and then making the big shot. You just keep taking them if they’re good shots, without second guessing yourself, and that’s challenging, but that’s what you have to do.”
Combine Virginia’s improved day on offense with a good defensive effort and you get a 15-point win. The Cavaliers held the Wolfpack to 32.1% shooting, including a 25.9% day from 3-point range. NCSU Dennis Smith Jr., who averaged 18.9 points entering the game, scored 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Abdul-Malik Abu, Markell Johnson, and Terry Henderson added 12, 11, and 10 points respectively.
NC State’s best stat came with 14 second-chance points courtesy of 15 offensive rebounds.
“First of all, Virginia is a pretty good basketball team and they shot the ball pretty well today, so you have to give them credit there,” NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said. “I thought that a couple things were the difference. I thought our inability to make an open shot – obviously they are a really good defensive team – but I also thought we had a ton of wide open shots we couldn’t make. That makes the game really hard, especially in a game that’s got fewer possessions. The way they play and the style they play, the open shots you get, you got to make some of them. We just seemed to miss open shot after open shot after open shot.”
Saturday’s victory wrapped up the road portion of Virginia’s schedule. UVA finished 7-5 in true road games and 5-4 in ACC road games for the season. The Hoos close the regular season with games against North Carolina (Monday) and Pitt (Saturday) at the John Paul Jones Arena.