ORLANDO, Fla. – London Perrantes crouched near the free throw line with his head down. He slowly exited the floor and slumped into a seat on Virginia’s bench. Wahoos everywhere, including Tony Bennett still coaching feverishly several feet away, held their breath.
“I didn’t know. He’s one of our toughest guys. I was worried,” Bennett said. “I didn’t know if it was his shoulder, his elbow, whatever. But, yeah, I was concerned for him first. … I said, all right, we’ve got to get this thing going without him. And when Ethan [Saliba] or someone said, ‘London is okay,’ it was obviously significant for the victory.”
Fortunately, for the Cavaliers, Perrantes’ stay at the end of the bench didn’t last long. He left the game with 5:34 remaining and returned just 32 seconds later.
“It was, I guess, only thing I could call it was a stinger. Kind of just I couldn’t feel my arm for that period of time,” Perrantes said. “So I was trying to get the feeling back into my arm. It wasn’t really working. So I had to come out. And then just like a minute or so later, I started to get more feeling in it, and then I was fine. Obviously, I wish it didn’t happen, but I didn’t want to come in and just be thinking about my arm. I just wanted to get the win, and I had to do whatever I could.”
That included immediately making a play. With the shot clock counting down, Perrantes slipped through the defense and scooped in a layup to push UVA ahead 66-59. The Hoos held on from there to win 76-71. Perrantes posted 24 points to lead all scorers.
Wilkins Unable To Give Many Minutes
While Perrantes managed to shake off the stinger, junior forward Isaiah Wilkins could not sustain any time on the floor. Still recovering from an undisclosed illness, he logged only 5 minutes after coming into the NCAA Tournament as a game-time decision. He grabbed 1 rebound in that short stint.
Wilkins had a dizzy spell of some sort on the bench and spent some time in the locker room as well. He told reporters that he likely is done for the weekend as he tries to bounce back. In a Cavs Corner video, he said he has lost approximately 20 pounds while fighting the illness over the past three weeks.
Bennett said he is “not counting on him” to play at this point with Florida up on Saturday. Regardless, the coach is thankful that Wilkins gave it a shot on Thursday.
“He’s a warrior,” Bennett said. “I told you what our plan was before. He had five minutes. Sometimes you get in there and you can’t get a stop. He pushed so hard, and he’s not – he hasn’t filled his tank up enough from this virus and this sickness. We’ll take it a day at a time. But then during the game – I think it was when we tied – he jumped up and got excited. I don’t know if it was a sinking spell or what, but it was not right. I feel for him. I put my arm around him, and I said, ‘I’ll never forget your courage and your heart to try,’ because we needed him when he was sick to get us into this tournament. He did it at NC State, North Carolina, Pitt.”
Five Guards Earn Free Throw Trips
With the defense struggling against UNC Wilmington’s screen and roll schemes and the offense needing a jolt as well, Virginia turned to five guards less than 12 minutes into the game Thursday. That helped the Hoos rally from a 15-point deficit and they eventually pulled out to as much as a 10-point lead before winning by five.
One reason why: free throws. The Cavaliers went to the free throw line 25 times in the game and made 17 of those freebies (68%). Guards took almost all of the free throws. Darius Thompson made 6 of 12, including two big ones to make it a two possession game with 1:09 to play. London Perrantes hit 4 of 5, while Marial Shayok and Devon Hall went 4 of 4 and 2 of 2 at the stripe.
The 25 free throws set a season high. UVA had been to the line 20 times or more in eight other games, including 24 attempts against Wake Forest at home and Virginia Tech on the road.
“We had to attack, and we had to draw fouls,” Bennett said. “We got them in the bonus with about – we were in the bonus, I’m sorry, with 11, 12 minutes. So that was important, and we needed to because we were spreading them out, attack, and obviously we wanted to capitalize on a few of them, but we made just enough, and we saved some for the next game. So we’ll take it.”
The NCAA Tournament poses the challenge of winning two games in three days to make the Sweet 16. The Cavaliers play Florida on Saturday in Orlando to try to advance. They have experience, of course, with these quick turnaround games since the ACC plays Saturday-Monday games during the regular season due to TV contracts.
UVA had three of those quick draws in February with a game at Syracuse before hosting Louisville. The Hoos rebounded from a loss at Cuse by defeating the Cards. After falling at UNC, the Cavaliers dropped a tough overtime game against Miami in the second case. They closed out the month with a win at NC State and at home against North Carolina in the third instance of Saturday-Monday games.
“We’ve been through some Saturday/Monday games in the ACC so we understand what that middle day is about,” Bennett said. “We’ll try to have a good plan and get after it.”
A Word On Williams
Virginia released sad news on former standout Chris Williams on Wednesday. The 36 year old passed away in Alabama on Wednesday morning. He played at UVA from 1999-2002 and remains the only player in program history to rank in the top 10 in career points, rebounds, blocked shots and steals. He had 1,812 points, 786 rebounds, 189 steals, and 97 blocked shots.
Williams was the 1999 ACC Freshman of the Year.
Bennett took a moment in his opening statement Thursday to send the program’s thoughts to Williams’ family.
“First, I would just like to say the Virginia family lost a great player and a member of our program, Chris Williams, who passed away. Called him Big Smooth,” Bennett said. “I’d never met him, but I just want to send out our heartfelt prayers and thoughts to his family. Thankful again for what he did for the program when he was here. I just wanted to honor him and his name and his legacy at this time.”