Mustapha Farrakhan scored in double figures for a career-best sixth straight game.
In some games this season, the Virginia men’s basketball team has had trouble getting shots to go down. On Saturday, that wasn’t a problem. The Cavaliers scorched Georgia Tech’s defense with 10 3-pointers on 66.7% shooting en route to a 72-64 victory.
The scary part for Yellow Jacket fans? The percentage actually went down in the second half after UVa bombed it way to a 43-29 halftime lead on the strength of 87.5% 3-point shooting. Virginia became the ninth team this season to hit more than 40 percent of its triples against Tech.
“I want them to take good rhythm shots. We’re trying to get paint-touches off the dribble and make the next pass. When feet are set and hands are ready, and a ball is kicked out, you’ve got to take that. When teams are going to pressure you or extend and get into you, you have to use the dribble. Then we say to make the next pass. I thought we did that well, and the guys got a little rhythm,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I like that we were getting into the lane, whether it was a three resulting from it or some drives or drops, those are good things. Like I said though, shooting’s a funny thing. You keep shooting as long as they’re good shots and don’t get too discouraged when they’re not going in. When they are, you just keep letting them fly.”
“When they see Georgia Tech on the shirt, if they are open, it’s going in. I promise you. At halftime, I was thinking, seven for eight. You can put teams in a gym by themselves that wide open and they are not going to make seven out of eight,” GT coach Paul Hewitt said. “It just shows you that have to be prepared to stop people as opposed to hoping that they miss.”
The shooting party started early for the Hoos. The hosts scored 12 of their first 14 points on treys – KT Harrell in the crowd corner, Mustapha Farrakhan at the top of the key, Harrell again from the left wing and Joe Harris from the bench corner. That opening outburst gave Virginia a 14-7 lead before Georgia Tech clawed back into the game at 23-22.
Virginia’s KT Harrell knocked down 3 of 4 3-point attempts.
That’s when two more triples helped spark another critical point in the game, a 20-7 run to end the first half. After Harrell hit a pair of free throws to start the surge, Farrakhan gathered his feet in the bench corner and nailed the long shot, which was followed moments later by Harris in the opposite corner.
In the end, Harrell made 3 of 4 triples, while Harris hit 3 of 5. Farrakhan knocked down 2 of 4 long-range shots and Sammy Zeglinski went 2 for 2 as well. The sharp-shooting display helped Harrell finish with 17 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Harris added 11 points and a career-best 8 rebounds. Farrakhan, meanwhile, finished with an ACC career best 23 points to go with 5 assists and 3 rebounds; he has reached double figures a career-best six games in a row.
The Hoos did not know they were lighting it up quite as much as they were in the first half.
“I mean I was such in the flow of the game, I didn’t even realize the stats or anything,” Farrakhan said. “We just wanted to play for each other and an open shot is a good shot for us.”
While the Cavaliers may not have realized how successful the half was going, they did know that some opportunities for 3-pointers would come up against the Yellow Jackets.
“Watching film on them, obviously they’re a really athletic and talented group, but they didn’t have as much discipline on the defensive end and we kind of noticed that so we knew that if we attacked the paint, there would be openings because they kind of lose their man defensively and turn their head,” Harris said. “We shot really well, especially from three, and I think that’s primarily because of the extra work together as a team that we’ve been putting in, before practice, after practice – a couple of weeks ago, we made a collective effort to get extra shots before practice and after and it’s really starting to pay off.”
Of course, the hot shooting display was not the sole determining factor in the outcome. No, UVa’s defense had a lot to do with that too. Playing frequently with a four guard line-up that features Harris at the typical power forward slot, the Cavaliers still effectively trapped the post when needed, contained the damage on offensive rebounds, and generally dealt with GT’s isolation and screen-and-roll plays well enough to build up an 18-point lead. Tech never led in the contest.
The Yellow Jackets did make a percentage push late in the contest to change the final outlook, posting 48.1% shooting and just the eight-point defeat. Still, Bennett was mostly pleased with his team’s defensive effort in the league victory until the waning minutes. The Hoos held Glen Rice to just 5 points and tried to make Iman Shumpert earn his points throughout the contest; he ended up with 19 points and 9 rebounds.
“I thought there were stretches of real good basketball, where the floor was spaced, we got nice rhythm, and defended okay. I didn’t think it was a great defensive performance, but I thought it was solid,” Bennett said. “Georgia Tech beat North Carolina by 20, and they beat Wake Forest handily. At home they’ve played so well their last two games, and those two guys, [Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice, Jr.], have been hot. We knew they were probably going to try to post them up on that mid-post area, but we said to make them earn. There were a few shots they got easy, but for the most part, we really tried to work hard to make other guys beat us.”