Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett said his program always emphasizes transition defense, but it took on an even bigger focus against Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers clamped down on fastbreak opportunities and slowly squeezed the air out of the Hokies’ offense as a result on Wednesday night.
That effort propelled UVA to a dominant 78-52 win, a 26-point margin that matched the largest margin of victory ever for the Hoos in Blacksburg. The Cavaliers grabbed a 38-12 win back in 1928 to first set that mark. After two-point losses in their last two trips there, the Hoos were happy to have such a comfortable victory this time around.
“The guys played terrific,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “I liked our defensive effort of course. … It was just a great team effort and, of course, some guys made some nice plays. Virginia Tech was a little off, but I hope a lot of that was due to us being back and making them earn their looks.”
The Hoos certainly accomplished that part of the plan. The Hokies ended up with just eight fastbreak points for the game and when they had to settle into halfcourt possessions, a combination of poor shooting and poor ball security sunk the offense. VT made just 17 of 47 shots (36.2%) including 2 of 12 3-pointers (16.7%). Tech entered the game leading the ACC at 41.7% shooting on triples so UVA effectively took away one a big piece of the attack.
The Hokies hurt their chances further with a pile of turnovers. They finished with 16, a number that represented a turnover on 23.8% of their possessions in the game.
Contrast that last stat to Virginia’s line on the night. The visitors gave up just six turnovers, which came on a low 9.0% of their possessions. That played a key role in the fastbreak prevention program too as the hosts couldn’t get out and run off of miscues.
“They’re so fast. There’s a reason why they’re scoring so much in transition,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “You first have to establish your transition defense and that’s by taking care of the ball and not turning it over – only six turnovers. … We just said they have to play against a set defense. … I just thought we were pretty attentive to our game plan and I thought our guys didn’t give up too many easy ones and the speed, being back negated a little bit of that in the halfcourt.”
The Wahoos not only limited turnovers, they dissected the defense for high quality looks for much of the night too. By the final horn, UVA tallied 18 assists – one more than VT’s total field goals made. That helped the Cavaliers make 30 of 61 shots (49.2%) and 12 of 25 3-pointers (48.0%).
Such an efficient showing obviously led to some strong stat lines. De’Andre Hunter led the way with 14 points to go with four rebounds and one assist. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy added 13 points each. Jerome dished out five assists with no turnovers, while Guy had three helpers and two turnovers. Devon Hall chipped in 12 points and four assists with no turnovers as well.
That meant the starting trio of Jerome, Guy, and Hall combined for 38 points, 12 assists, and just two turnovers. Guy and Hall also grabbed seven rebounds each, a new career best for Guy. UVA also got six points and two blocked shots from Jack Salt.
The Wahoos got a better performance from the bench than in the ACC opener against Boston College too. Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, and Nigel Johnson combined for only two points and three rebounds against the Eagles with two turnovers. All three bounced back against the Hokies. Diakite finished with nine points and two rebounds despite some foul trouble, while Johnson added six points with two assists and two turnovers. The trio tallied 29 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two turnovers in total. The bench outscored VT’s reserves 32-15 overall.
“It’s awesome when everyone can score and be effective,” Salt said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “We were finding the open guys, getting open shots, and it’s always a good feeling when everyone can get their own.”
Hunter’s strong outing, in particular, helped negate some of the issues caused by Tech’s small ball approach. It also allowed the Wahoos to easily manage some foul issues in the front court when all three post regulars picked up their third or fourth fouls in the opening minutes of the second half.
In fact, when Isaiah Wilkins picked up his third foul less than three minutes after intermission, Virginia stretched its lead. The margin grew from 12 points at 39-27 to 28 points at 63-35 over the next 10:30 of action. That span included a 15-0 run that eliminated any hopes of a late rally by the Hokies.
“I thought De’Andre at the four and what he did was really important for us,” Bennett said. “It was good to see him give us a lift and it was a true team effort.”