In a Thanksgiving Day game in Brooklyn, the Virginia basketball team made sure to pack the stuffing and passed extra helpings around offensively too. That resulted in a complete demolition of Vanderbilt on Thursday, 68-42, as the Cavaliers advanced to the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship Game against Rhode Island.
The Hoos are 5-0 for the second straight season and improved to 67-2 under Tony Bennett when holding an opponent to fewer than 50 points.
“I think there was a great stretch where Isaiah Wilkins took a charge and had some blocks,” Bennett said. “We were in a really good position. I think it was one of those cases where our guys were ready offensively. We played well and Vanderbilt didn’t play as well. I think our defense had something to do with it. But [Vanderbilt] was a little off, and that happens, but I thought it was very, very good team effort defensively.”
Virginia’s defense definitely made life difficult for Vanderbilt. The Hoos blocked eight shots, stuffing numerous shots near the rim to set the tone. Wilkins led the Thanksgiving Day block parade with four blocks that moved him into 10th place all-time in the program with 98. De’Andre Hunter added two blocks, while Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite had one each. Salt also tallied a season-high nine rebounds.
When the Cavaliers weren’t turning away shots, they were bothering attempts for most of the game. Vanderbilt managed just 23.1% shooting (12-52) for the game, including 22.2% from 3-point range (4-18). If not for a couple of dunks on turnover breakouts late in the game, those numbers could have been worse. Vandy made 14 of 19 free throws in order to barely crack 40 points. Senior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis, who led the SEC in field goal percentage as a sophomore and led Vandy in scoring as a junior, led his team with 11 points but that came on 3-of-9 shooting.
The struggles started early. Vanderbilt missed its first seven shots and committed three turnovers in the first 7:10 as UVA sprinted out to a 15-1 lead.
“We were missing shots early, and they made some shots,” Commodores coach Bryce Drew said. “Virginia is not a team you want to get behind on, especially early, because they are hard to come back on. We had some looks, but then they did a great job contesting.”
“We fought to be in position. For the most part, we kept the ball out of the lane and when we did have a breakdown, we blocked some shots,” Bennett said. “So I think it was just one of those things where everything was clicking. As you can see, Isaiah is one of our team leaders defensively; such a good help defender and keeps guys going and we guarded the ball well, so it led to that.”
With the defense locked in, UVA found a groove offensively by putting the giving in Thanksgiving. The Hoos piled up 21 assists on 27 field goals as they freed up shooters off of screens, dropped off passes near the rim, and defeated a second half post trap from Vandy. All of that helped UVA shoot 45% (27-60) overall and 47.6% from 3-point range (10-21). That included 53.1% (17-32) overall in the first half and 58.3% (7-12) from 3-point range in the first half.
Kyle Guy led the attack again with 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting. He made four 3-pointers, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out three assists as well. Ty Jerome set the passing tone with five assists and added 14 points with one rebound. Mamadi Diakite set a new career-high with 12 points and scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. He also had five boards.
Wilkins, who Bennett praised for his defensive prowess once again, chipped in eight points, three rebounds, and three assists as he shredded the post trap from the Commodores. He had a steal too. Nigel Johnson added five points, five rebounds, and four assists, while Devon Hall had three points, five rebounds, and three assists.
After a somewhat sluggish opener that saw UVA shoot 42.9% and score just 60 points against UNC Greensboro, the Cavaliers have reached 45% and 68 points or better in the last four outings. The four-game shooting stretch: 63.5%-50.8%-52.0%-45.0%. The four game scoring stretch: 93-76-73-68.
“Offensively we did some good things,” Bennett said of Thursday’s game. “We were moving the ball, getting good looks, getting some threes and some easy baskets. They had to chase us around some screens so it goes hand-in-hand. It’s always a battle, every possession – who can impose their will and who can get their game going, and I thought our guys established that. We got off to a big lead, and it’s tough to be in that spot for Vanderbilt but we just kept playing and we didn’t let up. We tried to play so hard every position out of the half as well. We slipped a little bit when our second unit came in – they had a 13-2 run, but otherwise it was well played for us.”
Virginia faces Rhode Island on Friday in Brooklyn for the tip-off title. That game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.