Devon Hall posted a new career high, Jay Huff turned his much-awaited debut into a spectacle, and the Virginia basketball team cruised past Austin Peay, 93-49, on Monday night in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Cavaliers are 2-0 for the third time in four years.
The second win of the season at John Paul Jones Arena was never in doubt. UVA never trailed as the lead grew quickly and never dwindled. The Hoos led by eight in the first five minutes and pushed that to double figures for the final 33:17 of action. The lead hit 20 points with 9:18 to go in the first half and stood at 29 points by the break. After getting the first bucket of the second half, the Cavaliers never led by less than 31 points the rest of the way.
”Austin Peay was not sharp tonight – they did a good job against Vandy for part of the game and tonight they were off,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. ”I thought we did a solid job of taking advantage of that and it was good to see those young guys get their feet wet.”
“We weren’t prepared to play grown men today,” said AP coach Matt Figger, who joked that UVA strength coach Mike Curtis needed a raise. “I had five freshmen on the floor playing guys who have been in the NCAA Tournament, these kids here at Virginia can compete for ACC titles and stuff.”
It proved to be a long night for the Governors as the Cavaliers generated offense at an impressive clip. The hosts shot 70.4% in the first half (19-27) and 63.5% for the game (33-52), while also converting 79.2% of their free throws (19-24). That helped push five players into double figures.
Huff, the 7’1” redshirt freshman that has captured the imaginations of fans, put on a show that fired up the building. After not playing against UNC Greensboro on Friday, he checked into the game to noticeable cheering and then canned a 3-pointer just 33 seconds into his debut. Moments later, he slammed home a tip-dunk on an offensive rebound and text messages undoubtedly starting flying around Wahoo nation.
By the time, he hit a rocking fade-away jumper on a baseline post move that Mike Scott would have loved, the excitement in the arena was bubbling over. Huff made his first six shots and finished with 16 points, four rebounds, five blocked shots, and two assists in 24 minutes. One of those helpers came on a pass to freshman walk-on Austin Katstra for a 3-pointer that caused plenty of smiles locally and beyond.
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” Huff said. “A couple of those shots actually felt really long and I thought they were going to go about three feet over. A lot of those were blessed a bit. … I wasn’t thinking much about being aggressive. I just kind of went out there and things happened.”
While Huff created message board fodder for days, four other Cavaliers joined him in with big scoring nights. Leading the way was Hall, who calmly put up a career-high 19 points with a perfect night inside the arc (his only three misses came from 3-point range) and at the free throw line were he made six shots. Hall added five rebounds, three assists, and two steals without a turnover.
Kyle Guy scored in double figures again with 14 points in just 20 minutes. He also logged two assists and two steals. De’Andre Hunter and Nigel Johnson joined Huff in double digits as part of the bench mob that owned a 49-22 advantage on the scoreboard. Hunter made all three of his shots and went 6-of-7 shooting at the free throw line for 13 points, while Johnson added 10 points, one assist, and two steals.
Other box score highlights for Virginia included four points, eight rebounds, two assists, and one steal for Isaiah Wilkins, who played just 18 minutes. Dayton Gumm led the Governors with 13 points.
“It’s good. I love to see our young guys be able to get more opportunities and be successful doing it,” Hall said. “De’Andre came in got a dunk, Marco had a turnaround jump shot, and Jay knocked down a three so it’s good to see those guys be able to get their confidence going, knowing the minutes might not have been there the first game we played. It was good to see those guys do that.”
“We have a lot of offensive pieces,” Hunter said. “We have big guys that can shoot. We have guards that can really pass and get into the lane. If we are clicking, we are going to do well.”
The Hoos certainly were clicking Monday night, something they hope carries into the season’s first road trip to VCU on Friday. When they make that trip, it will be on the heels of the highest scoring game to date in the Bennett era. Not that Bennett thought too much about that milestone after the win. He was just thankful for the strong performance and a chance to get the young players some quality minutes with the Rams up next.
“We had two quality scrimmages, so that was important, but to play and be in those situations, every experience is invaluable for a group that is less experienced,” Bennett said. “And I think the atmosphere we’ll face against VCU, having been in there before, will be different and, obviously, they can play. Their program is established, excellent coaching and I’m impressed with them. So, we’ll have to really be ready and it will be a good experience for us. And again, as you can see, matchups will matter how much guys play and just how the game’s going.”