Will Sherrill scored 15 points in the second half to help spark the Cavaliers.
For three straight halves in Cancun, the Virginia men’s basketball team bogged down on offense. Few good shots, stagnant movement, and poor decisions prevented the Hoos from producing good possessions much less points. Thank goodness a forward helped spark the Cavaliers to 49 second-half points and a 76-65 win.
No not Sylven Landesberg . Nope, not Mike Scott either. Will Sherrill! That’s right, Will Sherrill. The 6’8″ walk-on poured in 18 points behind a barrage of second-half jumpers to help the Cavs win against Cleveland State on Wednesday. That easily trumped his previous career high of 3 points. That’s right, 3.
“I was just able to get in the game and our guys were doing a really good job penetrating,” Sherrill told the Virginia Sports Network. “When they do that, I was just able to space out to the 3-pointer and I was getting a lot of open looks because my guy had to help off and the shots were falling tonight.”
Sherrill knocked down virtually every clean look he got against the Vikings, finishing 7 of 9 from the floor and 4 of 5 from 3-point range. But his shooting is just part of the story. Sherrill served as the catalyst for a more successful and efficient offense in the second half.
First near the 16-minute mark of the second half, he correctly read a baseline screening set from his high post passing position. On the play, both C-State defenders followed the cutter off of Mike Scott’s screen, allowing the Cavalier forward to slip quickly toward the rim. Sherrill saw that both defenders stepped out with the cutter and that the post defender had his head turned away from the ball so he fired a high-low pass to Scott for an easy dunk.
Shortly after that play, Sherrill canned a pair of jumpers to help lift the Hoos into the lead at 49-46; the latter j came from beyond the arch with 11:10 remaining. But he didn’t let his warming shot take him out of his game and start forcing shots. Moments after his mini-run of points, Sherrill caught the ball at the left lane line extended and could have fired a semi-contested jumper as a heat check. Instead, he secured the pass, showed a shot look in triple threat position and quickly shuffled the ball over to Mustapha Farrakhan . The extra pass left Farrakhan wide open and he drained the 3-pointer as part of an 11-point night against the Vikings.
Statistically, Sherrill also chipped in with 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 1 block in 24 very efficient minutes. But the statistics and the sorts of plays highlighted don’t even mention the fact that Sherrill’s shooting seemed to create better spacing for the offense as a whole. It’s not a coincidence that Landesberg started to find better driving angles after Sherrill’s shooting loosened up the defense. The Cavaliers’ star ended up with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists to go with 6-of-13 shooting.
“I was just playing as hard as I could and shots were falling,” Sherrill said. “Defensively, hustle plays are always what I do; I try to get as many rebounds as I can playing defense. The shots were falling tonight and I was lucky that I kept getting a lot of good, rhythm looks. At the end of the game, they started to really face-guard me and we got to the lane and got a lot of easy lay-ups so it was pick your poison for them tonight.”
Even with the improved offensive play, though, Virginia didn’t run away with things until late. That’s because defensively the Hoos just couldn’t string together stops at crucial moments, allowing Cleveland State to shoot 55.3% for the game and 9 of 21 from 3-point range (42.9%). In fact if Sammy Zeglinksi hadn’t hit a scoop-and-shoot 3-pointer to beat the shot clock buzzer just after the 5-minute mark, who knows what could have happened. As it turned out, the flip-it-up shot gave UVa a 64-60 lead and C-State never truly threatened again after the Hoos added another 3 a couple of minutes later for a 72-65 advantage.
But while the defense wasn’t outstanding in Cancun, Sherrill said that it was good that the team responded to adversity – after three poor halves overall and a sluggish effort against Stanford the night before, the Cavs rallied from an early second-half deficit against Cleveland State to get the victory. He said the Hoos need to build on it, though.
“This has to be the start of something for us as a team. Hopefully I keep playing well, but just for us as a team it has to be the start of something where no matter what happens we keep fighting and we stay together,” Sherrill said. “It’s one win and we’ve got to build on it. There are a lot of things we need to do better, but it’s a great feeling right now.”