Mamadi Diane had 20 points, including two big 3-pointers during the Hoos’ key run to start the second half.
The Virginia men’s basketball team got back on track – particularly on offense where four starters scored in double figures- and picked up its first ACC victory of the season Saturday night against Boston College. The 84-66 win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Cavaliers, a skid that saw the team score 70 points or less in all three outings.
Yes, there were some happy Hoos in the postgame media room. Virginia coach Dave Leitao said taking a step back to relax and regroup helped lift his team against Boston College.
“From a scouting report standpoint, the biggest key coming into the game for our team, and, most importantly, for me, and we talked about it Thursday, Friday, and today, was to have fun,” Leitao said. “I can tend to be an ornery guy, and it’s been a long three weeks, and as the days passed I got more and more ornery. It changes the mood in the gym, and you forget sometimes that they’re young people and you have to work with them. When their minds are clouded, their feet are slow. If their minds are clear, then they have a better chance to perform and they did that.”
While defense is always the buzzword around Coach Leitao – and the Cavs performed well on that end of the floor against BC – the offensive awakening played a key role in the success. Not surprisingly, Sean Singletary helped spark things with 19 points and 10 assists, but Mamadi Diane , Adrian Joseph , and Calvin Baker were huge factors. Diane poured in 20 points, while Joseph added 17 and Baker had 15.
All three of those players looked more comfortable on the floor and they were more aggressive in getting themselves involved. Diane was especially active early in the game, scoring 14 points before intermission including a 3-pointer to jumpstart the Cavs’ offense; he also hit a pair of bonus balls early in the second half, including a run-capping (21-7) trey that pushed the lead to 56-42. BC coach Al Skinner thought Diane’s performance heavily impacted the outcome.
“The thing that is important to their club is that you know Sean is going to get points, but Diane and Joseph were able to. He needs help like everyone else and he got it tonight,” Skinner said. “They obviously had a very fine game. We just did not do a good job on Diane most of the night. … I think that’s the difference in the ballgame.”
The Virginia bench celebrates. UVa coach Dave Leitao said getting back to having fun was critical for the team.
The offense also benefited from some easy transition looks in the second half thanks to sound defense by the Cavaliers. Switching between a 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense – a tactic Leitao called “fastball, curveball, fastball, curveball” – UVa got Boston College out of rhythm. The Eagles eventually shot just 37.9% in the half. The effects trickled over to the free throw line as well where the visitors made just 7 of 15 freebies after intermission and 11 of 24 overall.
With Boston College missing shots, the Hoos were able to push the ball up the floor and find early offense, something Skinner and Leitao both cited as a key in the second half. While the ensuing shots weren’t necessarily of the fastbreak-pass-dunk variety (Diane’s alley-oop to Joseph a notable exception), the Cavaliers did build the lead on uncontested looks with BC in unsettled defensive situations. The Eagles had trouble locating shooters and cutters despite having all five players back and Virginia made them pay. UVa shot 53.3% after halftime, an indicator of just how many good looks the team had.
“A couple of shots didn’t fall for us, but as we continued to work and got out in transition, everything [started to] work,” Singletary said. “We helped on defense, took charges, boxed out, and got in transition and we did the right thing.”
“We played defense well enough to get out and run,” Leitao said. “I thought in the beginning of the second half, Sean was magnificent – and has been since the second half of the Duke game – and once we got out we felt good about it. One of the things we hadn’t been doing was making shots. Today we made shots at good times.”
The Cavaliers now have a short break before hitting the ACC road on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. showdown with Florida State. So while they were happy to get back to winning, the players also knew they had to get back to work.
“We’re definitely happy, but at the same time thinking forward to the next game,” Diane said. “We go on the road, which is always tough, so I’m thinking about the next game.”
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