The Virginia basketball team’s focused and efficient style has a way of acting like a mirror for opponents. Sometimes that reflection can be frustrating.
If concentration slips or effort wanes for a moment, the Cavaliers quickly can take advantage. That was the case for Monmouth on Sunday, who saw an early lead slide away under the weight of a Cavalanche as the Hoos won 73-53 in an NIT Season Tip-off game. UVA erased a 15-8 deficit with a 31-6 run to end the half and never let the Hawks back in it.
The Cavaliers are 4-0 for the third time in four years.
“Today, I felt like we got shown all of our warts. And that’s what Virginia does to you,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. ”I watched all their games against North Carolina and they show their warts when they play them too. I’ve watched them make Duke show their warts. I was a little worried about that today because I got a good group of kids, we haven’t really been through a lot yet, and today I think we’ll take some major steps from this because our kids learned a lesson today, that disciplined basketball is the best way to play and when you do it with a group of guys that are so bought into the team. We know this feeling because we had it. We had it in the past three years.”
For the third straight game, a different Virginia player set a new career high scoring mark to help lead the Hoos to victory. On Sunday, redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter took his turn at the top of the charts.
Hunter poured in 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 shooting at the free throw line. That scoring line was about as seamless as can be as the 6’7” wing eased from spot to spot and comfortably knocked down shots. The effort was so smooth in fact, that it was reminiscent perhaps of the late Virginia Rookie of the Year Chris Williams.
It was timely too.
When Hunter checked into the game, UVA trailed 10-8 and back-to-back Monmouth buckets pushed that margin to 15-8 with 12:03 to go in the half. Then Hunter went to work. He scored 10 of the next 12 points for his team as the Hoos put together a 14-0 burst. Later in the half, UVA pulled away with a 12-0 surge that included a Hunter 3-pointer.
“I would say it’s my confidence.” Hunter said of what led to the breakout game. “The last few games I haven’t really been playing my game as well as I could. The coaches just told me to stay confident and stay ready, and that’s what I tried to do.”
All told, the Philadelphia native scored in almost every way imaginable – drives, pull-up jumpers, post-ups, 3’s, and free throws. Oh, and he added a team-high eight rebounds with one assist and one steal too.
“I told you guys from the get go, you are going to see flashes from De’Andre and Jay [Huff], they are going to show you their upside and exciting things,” Bennett said. “There is going to be times where there will be some ups and downs but you certainly saw a nice flash. It is about how can we be consistent and keep up the pace of the game. We needed that. Monmouth, they make you work. They guarded and they made us fight for stuff early, and I thought we were pretty good defensively. Then our offense started clicking.”
Two others joined Hunter in double digits.
Sophomore guard Kyle Guy kept up his assertive start to the season with his fourth straight game in double figures. The coaches pushed Guy to be more assertive on offense throughout the offseason and he’s answered that challenge so far. After a career-high 29 points at VCU on Friday, Guy tallied 13 points, three assists, and one steal against the Hawks.
Guy now has stat lines of 16 points/3 assists (UNC Greensboro), 14/2 (Austin Peay), 29/1 (VCU), and 13/3 (Monmouth) over the first 10 days of the season. After shooting 43.9% overall and 49.5% from 3-point range as a freshman, he’s started with better shooting numbers in the small four-game sample size this season. He’s currently at 51.1% overall and 50.0% from downtown.
The Indiana native is averaging 18 points per game.
“I think there is more of a mark on my back this year, just being able to shoot and score a little bit last year,” Guy said. “I think my pump-fake has helped in being able to put on the floor and get to the basket. I think that helps a lot.”
Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite saw his work overshadowed a bit by Hunter’s big day and foul trouble, but he put up season highs with 10 points and six rebounds along with a blocked shot. Devon Hall, who started this career-high string of games for different players with 19 against Austin Peay, chipped in six points, three rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Isaiah Wilkins added five points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals, while Ty Jerome had five points, one rebound, one assist, and two steals.
The Cavaliers shot 52% (26-50) from the floor and 81% (17-21) from the free-throw line. That marked the third time in four games that the Hoos attempted 20+ free throws.
All of that was more than enough to shake free from the Hawks, who managed just 33.3% shooting (16-48) and committed 14 turnovers. Louie Pillari and Deion Hammond led Monmouth with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
“You try to explain to kids how disciplined they’re going to be, and then when you’re out in front of them you need [to take] that breath, you have to have that breath,” Rice said. “That’s why I like how these kids play. And then they start the second half doing the same exact thing, and you take a breath and they get you again. So, I feel like [Tony Bennett] showed me some things as a coach that I have to get better at and I think our kids learned that if we’ll be disciplined on offense, we’ll be able to score.”