Lawrence Joel Coliseum often acts like a sort of vortex for the Virginia basketball program, sucking the life out of the team in trips there this millennium. The Hoos, after all, lost 10 straight times in the building from 2001-2013 and one of two recent wins required a miracle rally and bank shot to escape victorious. This year’s team made sure the mysterious LJC effect only lasted a half, though.
No. 2 UVA trailed at the half for just the second time this season when it entered intermission down 24-22 on Sunday night, but rallied behind much better shooting and some stingy stretch defense to win 59-49. The Cavaliers made five 3-pointers after halftime and clamped down on the Demon Deacons in the final eight minutes to get the W.
“I think to be in that spot – that was my message at halftime, this is good,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We’re going to find out more – I know a lot about you guys, but we’re going to find out more and it’s nothing fancy. Can we dig a little deeper? I thought the guys did a solid job.”
The Hoos pulled ahead on several occasions, but couldn’t shake the hosts until a final push over the last nine minutes. Wake’s Chaundee Brown hit a jumper to cut the UVA lead to 42-41 at the 8:45 mark when some timely shooting created an 11-4 run and a margin that the Deacs couldn’t overcome.
De’Andre Hunter sparked the surge with eight points during that stretch. That started with a pick-and-pop 3-pointer after a timeout. Devon Hall followed with a 3-pointer of his own on the next possession to jump the lead to seven points. With Wake Forest still hanging around by a five-point margin in the final five minutes, Hunter struck again. He tipped in a missed Isaiah Wilkins jumper and then finished an assist from Hall with another 3-pointer. Hunter ended up with 16 points and five rebounds, while Hall had 12 points and seven boards.
“He just showed some diversity, scoring in the post, offensive rebounds, and 3’s and pull-ups,” Bennett said. “Again, he sometimes has a four or a five on him or if it’s a smaller guy – it’s kind of the way the game is going in a lot of aspects. He’s certainly taken advantage of it and he’s giving us a good lift, but so are other guys.”
The final Hunter jumper capped the 11-4 push and essentially put the game away because once Wake started fouling down six in the final 1:30, the Hoos sealed the deal at the free throw line. They ended up 10 for 10 at the stripe in the game. Hall made all six of his attempts and Kyle Guy knocked down four, including the final two points of the game.
That Guy finished off the scoring provided a nice bookend to the start of the second half. After all, he scored seven of the team’s first nine points after the break to give the Wahoos the lead for good. That included a 3-pointer in the first 10 seconds, another jumper, and a pair of free throws. He tallied 12 of his game-high 17 points in the second half.
Guy also matched career highs with four steals and four assists.
“I thought Virginia came out in the second half, and obviously shot a much higher percentage than they did in the first half. Their offensive rebounding was key in helping them create some separation,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. “They run kind of a wheel offense and we weren’t close enough to three-point shooters. We’ve got to do a better job of staying in front of the ball so we don’t have to help as much. They also do a good job of moving the ball.”
With Guy, Hunter, and Hall all hitting 3-pointers in the second half, the rest of the equation boiled down to defense as it always does. UVA held Wake Forest to just 30.4% shooting in the second half, including only one 3-pointer on six attempts. The Demon Deacons placed three guys in double figures, led by Bryant Crawford’s 11 points. Mitchell Wilbekin and Brandon Childress each added 10.
Over the final eight minutes, however, the Cavaliers kept all three of those players in check. Only Crawford added to his total in that stretch with two free throws and Wake’s only field goals during the stretch run came from Doral Moore, who scored three times near the rim on two layups and a tip-in rebound.
That late second-chance basket was not a theme in the game. The Demon Deacons only had six offensive rebounds for six second chance points overall. That wasn’t nearly enough against a Virginia defense that not only held down the shooting percentage again at 37%, but also notched seven steals among 12 Wake turnovers.
“Wake Forest is long, and you saw that when Doral Moore tipped over Isaiah Wilkins,” Bennett said. “We went small with De’Andre Hunter and Isaiah Wilkins, so I was concerned about that coming into the game. In our last few games we’ve been giving up more defensive rebounds so that certainly was an issue. Coach Manning ran good plays, and it was hard for us to get anything going at the rim, so we really focused on being in position and making Wake Forest earn each point.”
The Cavaliers return home for a game with Clemson on Tuesday. They’ll enter that contest with an 18-1 record overall and a league-leading 7-0 mark ACC play.