The Virginia basketball team picked apart Lehigh on both ends of the floor Saturday as it cruised to a 75-54 victory at the John Paul Jones Arena. UVA dished out 21 assists and forced 17 turnovers to control the game both offensively and defensively.
As a result, the Hoos climbed to 8-0 on the season with a trip to West Virginia looming on Tuesday.
“The University of Virginia is a renowned defensive team. From a national perspective, they are some of the best,” Mountain Hawks coach Brett Reed said. “Fortunately, for our team we have been able to take care of the basketball very well. The combination of Virginia’s length, their discipline for their floor spots and the fact that even on our penetration we weren’t able to turn the corner and get as deep as perhaps we normally would, led to a few more offensive miscues and a few more turnovers.”
The Cavaliers took full advantage of the 17 forced turnovers, scoring 24 points on those opportunities. That played a role in the game’s decisive stretch too. With UVA leading 12-11 near the midpoint of the first half, the Hoos turned three turnovers into baskets as the lead ballooned to 37-19 over close to 10 minutes of action.
Virginia started that 25-8 outburst with a 10-0 surge that saw Lehigh go scoreless for 4:50. That defensive effort ebbed a bit in the second half, but the Wahoos still held the Mountain Hawks to 40.4% shooting in the game. Only a 10-of-24 shooting effort (41.7%) from 3-point range kept the final margin in the 20’s range.
UVA has held every opponent this season to less than 50% shooting in the game.
“I liked our defense in the first half, when we were setting back,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “I didn’t think it was great in the second half. I thought they got some easy looks and we weren’t as sharp as we could be. But points off transition, whether it’s offensive rebounds, turnovers, or getting to the line, those are really important. We capitalized early, especially as the game was sort of back and forth, those turnovers turned into quick buckets.”
“I think it was just us playing a good defense,” UVA sophomore Kyle Guy said. “I mean, we had a lot of breakdowns but we tried to be in the gap and anticipate, which we work on every day in practice, and I think that showed.”
With the defense helping spark easy opportunities, the offense settled into an efficient afternoon. The Hoos shot 51.7% for the game with 21 assists on 30 made baskets. Nigel Johnson and Ty Jerome proved to be the table-setters more often than not in that sense with 12 combined assists in the game.
Johnson, in particular, created some easy chances for teammates with some drop-downs and alley-oops for dunks that led to eight assists. He also had five points and two boards. Jerome added four assists with zero turnovers along with three points.
Guy, Isaiah Wilkins, and Devon Hall were on the receiving end of some of those dimes as they tallied 17 of the team’s 30 made baskets. Guy lit it up with 21 points on the strength of 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. He chipped in with three steals as well. Hall finished with 11 points, five rebounds, and two assists.
Wilkins, meanwhile, became part of a dunk parade during the day to score 14 points. He went 5-8 shooting from the floor and 3-3 shooting at the free throw line. The senior filled the boxscore elsewhere too with six rebounds, three steals, two assists, and one blocked shot.
Jack Salt, Mamadi Diakite, and Jay Huff got in on the slam fest too. Salt’s four points came on dunks, while Diakite and Huff each caught a pair of spectacular alley-oop dunks that rewarded a packed house at the JPJ. Diakite posted six points, five rebounds, and two steals, while Huff added five points, three rebounds, and one steal. At one point in the second half, UVA scored via the oop on three straight trips down the floor.
Those high percentage shots helped push UVA past he 70-point plateau for the fifth time this season. That almost always means good news for the Hoos, who improved to 100-6 when scoring at least 70 points in the Bennett era.
“Oh, for real, it was three in a row? That’s amazing!” Wilkins joked. “No, I think [transition] has been emphasized more this year. This year, we are trying to get out and run more with Nigel, Devon, and Kyle pushing the ball. So yeah, it’s been emphasized.”
Virginia returns to action on Tuesday at West Virginia. That 7 p.m. game on ESPNU will be the last one before an 11-day break for exams.