Ahead of the Virginia-Louisville matchup on Wednesday night, Cardinals coach David Padgett praised Tony Bennett for bringing in players ready and prepared to contribute year after year. He said “whoever he brings in, they’re going to do the same thing and they do it to perfection.” Little did Padgett know how prophetic those words would be.
With De’Andre Hunter limited by a Saturday ankle sprain against Duke, Nigel Johnson serving the first of a three-game suspension, Devon Hall coming off of flu-like symptoms, and Ty Jerome in a bit of foul trouble, Virginia turned to seldom used freshman Marco Anthony on Wednesday. He delivered with 10 points in 18 minutes as the Cavaliers remained unbeaten in ACC play with a 74-64 win at the John Paul Jones Arena.
No one from No. 2 UVA seemed all that surprised that Anthony answered the call with that performance.
“Definitely not surprised. I mean, he is just one of those guys that really waits his turn and bides his time and is ready to focus at all times,” Virginia guard Kyle Guy said. “I think you saw that on the court tonight. He is very strong, good with the ball, did not make too many turnovers. With his big frame, it is hard to take the ball from him. He was really sound tonight.”
“He works his butt off, so I’m so happy for him and to see him go out there and play that well,” Hall said. “I wasn’t really surprised because he works his butt off and he always says ‘I’m just waiting on my moments,’ so he did a great job tonight. He helped us, big lift.”
That work was on display as recently as this past Saturday. After the team returned from Duke at around 10 p.m., Anthony asked some managers if they would help him work out. He put up shots for almost an hour that night in the team’s practice gym. Getting up extra shots like that is a routine occurrence.
That sort of preparation set Anthony up for success when he got a chance against the Cardinals. He made four of six shots, including two of three 3-pointers, to post his 10 points. Plus, he didn’t log a turnover despite handling the ball against Louisville’s changing defenses, sideline traps, and fullcourt pressure.
“The whole team has confidence in me to come out and do what I can do so I just came out playing my game and that really helped me,” Anthony said.
While Anthony provided some needed minutes, the Hoos’ usual suspects also came through. Guy led all scorers with 22 points on 21 shots, which included just two 3-pointers. He knocked down eight shots inside the arc and challenged Louisville’s length with some quick floaters among his buckets. Hall, meanwhile, shook off his illness – he said he was “tired” after the game – to put up 12 points with two assists and two steals.
Jerome logged 30 minutes despite picking up two fouls in each half and took advantage of his time on the floor. He knocked out Louisville with 16 points to go with nine assists. His night included a pair of late-clock 3-pointers in the final 2:30 that helped keep the Cardinals behind on the scoreboard.
After the last triple found the bottom of the net, Jerome retreated back on defense with a giant smile on his face. And why not? He made six of nine shots, including three of four 3-pointers, to help the Hoos reach 10-0 in the conference standings.
“Those were impressive shots,” Bennett said. “Sometimes we got the switch; sometimes we did not, but he just needs a little space [to shoot] and if you come up too close he will get in the lane and make some tough shots. I would like to say that is just the great engineering of the offense, but that is guys making plays. When the game gets to that, you try to give the right space and put the ball in the right guy’s hands and let guys make plays. He made some big shots, as did Kyle.”
In fact, most of the team made big shots throughout the night. The Cavaliers shot 53.7% for the game (29-54) and 56.3% (9-16) from 3-point range. The four players in double figures made 25 of 44 shots (56.8%). The hosts avoided the Cardinals’ shot-blocking prowess too, having just one shot turned away during the game. The Cards entered with an average of 7.1 blocks per game, which ranked No. 2 nationally.
UVA needed that sharp-shooting night. Louisville became the first team this season to reach 50% shooting as the visitors made 25 of 50 shots. That included 44.4% shooting from 3-point range where they knocked down eight of 18 attempts.
The Cardinals got a big outing from Ray Spalding, who made eight of 10 shots to finish with 16 points and seven rebounds. Deng Adel added 15 points on five-of-nine shooting to go with five boards. V.J. King had 10 points on three-of-eight shooting. The team as a whole managed to expose the paint area with some drives and post feeds and made some timely 3-pointers to balance out the attack.
Still, Virginia shook off seven ties and three lead changes in the first half to eventually lead for the final 23:23 of action. The lead grew to as high as 14 points and the closest Louisville got was a five-point deficit in the final four minutes. The Hoos simply had too many players making shots so trading baskets wasn’t enough for the Cardinals to get a road win.
“When they shoot the ball like that you are going to have to make more than eight three’s to beat them,” Padgett said. “Our guys competed for every single second of those 40 minutes. It is just a game where you literally have to tip your hat to the other team because they just made big plays and big shots. … If you were going to tell me we would come in here and shoot 50 percent and score 64 points, I would have liked our chances but sometimes the other team just makes more shots than you do, so you just have to give them all the credit in the world. There is a reason they are number two in the country and it showed tonight.”