BROOKLYN – Throughout the first two ACC Tournament games at Barclays Center, different Virginia players have put together offensive outbursts in pockets. Friday night, Jack Salt took his turn in the spotlight.
With Clemson trying to rally in the second half of UVA’s 64-58 win, Salt came through with six strong minutes to help the Hoos prevail. He scored six points and set a screen that led to two more in that stretch as the Hoos put another one in the win column.
“I thought we competed at a really high level,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. “I thought defensively we really matched them in terms of being able to make things difficult. Credit some of their under-the-radar guys like Jack Salt, who made some big plays late in some shot clocks, a couple tip-ins, short shots, and then obviously the stretch in the first half where we had trouble scoring was really the difference.”
Salt’s surge began at 10:03 and carried through the 3:59 media timeout.
The first play fit the typical profile for the junior center. Salt handed the ball off to Nigel Johnson and then pivoted so that Johnson could dribble right back into a ball screen. Johnson took the ball to the right baseline for a pullup jumper. That was the only bucket for UVA during a 9-2 Clemson run. A few moments after a Tiger 3-pointer capped that flurry and cut the lead to 46-39, Salt slowed that rally with a left hook on the right baseline that came with two seconds on the shot clock.
Clemson climbed to 50-45 when Salt answered again at the 5:51 mark. He caught a pass on a screen-and-roll look, took two dribbles to set up a fake into the paint, and then turned to go right-handed off the glass with three seconds on the shot clock. Teammates talked about how they had urged him to go to the right hand and he said coaches had stuck with him to improve that move. On the next trip down the floor, he caught a low pocket pass slipping out of a screen-and-roll set and hit a contested lefty hook on the move with three seconds on the shot clock again. That pushed UVA’s lead back to nine points.
Salt grabbed the next defensive rebound too. Then later in the game for good measure, he saved an errant pass drifting out of bounds by tip-toeing on the sideline.
“That was awesome. I’m so glad to see Jack do that,” UVA’s Devon Hall said. “He had a heck of a game and that big lift. People say they might not expect it to be Jack or whatever, but he works his butt off so I’m happy for him.”
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In the final stats, Salt posted eight points and eight rebounds along with two steals. That was one basket shy of his season-high 10 points against Savannah State and one rebound shy of his season-high of nine rebounds against Vanderbilt and Louisville in that road game.
That’s the most he’s had in both categories simultaneously since going for six and six at Syracuse and at home against Georgia Tech this season. Last season, he put up a similar line against Florida in the NCAA Tournament with eight points and 10 rebounds and against Providence in November with eight points and six rebounds.
In other words, Salt came through with a big-time performance in a big moment. Fans at the Barclays Center loved it. They gave him an ovation and chanted his name as he left the floor.
“I didn’t know. They were probably just surprised I was scoring so much,” Salt said. “It was a good game. Ground it out. It was a bit ugly at the end, but it was good to get it.”
Salt’s coach enjoyed the show as much as anyone. Virginia coach Tony Bennett named the junior one of three captains at the start of the season along with seniors Isaiah Wilkins and Hall. For a program that hangs its collective hat on pillars that include servanthood, Bennett loved the effort from Salt and how it drew represented the team on a big stage like the ACC Tournament.
“Jack and Isaiah, but I’ll talk about Jack, they embody everything that our program – we’re here because of guys like that who are servants, who screen, run the floor, rebound, and do whatever you ask,” Bennett said. “And he’s unbelievable. And he was named a captain this year as a third year, which we usually don’t do eligibility-wise. So he’s just all heart, and he’ll do whatever you ask. That’s the way he was raised. And that’s how it is probably in New Zealand, right, you just fight and you don’t back down, and I was fortunate enough to live there to see that, but I think we have a team full of guys like that.”