Ty Jerome Makes Virginia Feel At Home Against Clemson

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Ty Jerome and Virginia will play for the ACC Tournament title.
Ty Jerome set a new career high with 10 assists Friday. ~ Photo courtesy Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

BROOKLYN – Virginia needed someone to make things comfortable again Friday night so it turned to someone already feeling at home.

Under the bright lights of the Barclays Center in the ACC Tournament Semifinals, Clemson’s defense created some problems for the Hoos midway through the first half. The Tigers had built a 20-13 lead while the Hoos stumbled through a 6:11 scoring drought. The top seed didn’t look comfortable and several attempts to shake it off failed.

Then UVA turned to sophomore Ty Jerome. A New York native playing within an hour of his home, Jerome handled basketball pressure in this city before so it seemed like a home-grown solution. As you’d expect in New York, he delivered.

“Yeah I think that was our run in the first half,” Jerome said. “A few ball screens. Kyle [Guy] hit a tough shot. Also, I’ve got guys around that make plays. They make my job easy. It’s simple. Making the right read is simple when you’ve got guys around you that are good.”

The strategy switch to more ball screens at that point in the first half stopped the scoring slump and helped propel Virginia to its 64-58 win. It also put the decision-making in Jerome’s hands for many possessions.

When UVA went to the concept, Jerome ran off a ball screen from Mamadi Diakite and pulled the defense with him. He tossed the ball back to Diakite on the left wing and he quickly drove the defender’s recovery for a jump hook in the paint. That play at 7:22 stopped the long drought and sparked a 19-3 run into intermission.

On the next possession, Jerome and Diakite moved the ball screen to the right side of the floor. This time, Jerome got away from the defense and drew the help toward the middle before he kicked out to De’Andre Hunter for a 3-pointer. After a breakout dunk for Kyle Guy and a pair of missed free throws from Hunter, Jerome dialed up another look out of the ball screen. He again came off of Diakite’s pick and this time spotted Hunter flashing into the high post. Hunter took that pass at the elbow and drove for an easy layup to give the Hoos the lead for good.

Moments later, Jerome refused Diakite’s ball screen on the right wing again and drove to the baseline for a step-back jumper that went through the nets at 2:59. On the next possession, Jerome came off the ball screen again and this time dropped a pass down to Isaiah Wilkins for a reverse layup.

Those four assists and a jumper in a little more than four minutes re-established rhythm for UVA’s offense and helped create a path back to the ACC Tournament final for the third time in five years.

“He’s tremendous in the pick-and-roll,” Guy said. “We kid because he’s so slow I don’t know how he does it. He’s really good at changing his pace and he’s a big guard so he can get into the lane.”

“Yeah. He’s good. Being able to be a PG, making those plays,” Virginia senior Devon Hall said. “We were going to keep going to it until they stopped it.”

Jerome finished the game with six points and a career-high 10 assists. He committed only one turnover when he tried to duplicate the Wilkins’ layup feed in the second half. The helpers set up 10 of Virginia’s 28 total baskets, meaning Jerome notched an assist on 35.7% of his team’s buckets on the day.

On the season, Jerome is up to 124 assists with 50 turnovers, a 2.48 to 1 ratio. That’s more than double his 50 assists from last season as a freshman, while the turnovers have only grown by 20. He’s started all 32 games this season and stepped in for four-year starter London Perrantes comfortably. Jerome is close to surpassing the 128 assists Perrantes logged last season. Perrantes finished with 569 career assists, good enough for fourth all-time in the program.

That Virginia coach Tony Bennett found another guard with a feel for the game isn’t surprising. That’s a recruiting trail priority for the Cavalier coach as he likes what he’s often called a ‘neck up player’ that understands the game and how to play. Jerome developed that feel of the game over the years and credited his father Mark Jerome for building his basketball knowledge. Mark Jerome coaches Beacon High School in New York.

“I think I was always super slow and unathletic so I had to do something on the court right?” Jerome said with a wry grin. “My dad played a huge part in that. Certain coaches along the way really helped me, but my dad definitely gave me the foundation.”

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Throw in the intangibles that Ty Jerome has – someone that played at famous New York street ball venues like Rucker Park and Dyckman Park isn’t going to shy away from competition – and it’s no wonder the Hoos rattled off some wins this season. It’s no wonder his high school coach at Iona Prep Vic Quirolo once said that he ‘would put nothing past his guy’ when it came to the basketball court.

Plus, Jerome has the classic New York point guard mentality down pat. Create for others and help make them better, but come through with your own big shots when needed. Add a little flair too. Hoo fans saw that way back in the ACC opener against Boston College when he erupted for 31 points, but he flashed it again in Friday’s semifinal. With Clemson still hanging within striking distance late, he pulled up for a clean jumper late in the shot clock that made it a nine-point lead again.

He’s also shown the other side of that coin so far in Brooklyn too. With Guy entering the postseason in a bit of a shooting slump, Jerome has made sure to get his sophomore running mate the ball on time in comfortable spots. He’s also picked a couple of moments in transition to try to get Guy an easy one, an early layup against Louisville didn’t go down but a second-half jumper against Clemson did in the midst of a 10-0 Virginia run. On that one, Jerome pushed the ball ahead, waited for Guy to trail into an open spot behind the play, and dropped the ball back to him for the swish. Guy has shot 50% in both games in Brooklyn.

“He’s my favorite player because he’s always looking for me,” Guy said with a smile. “He’s always trying to get me going and Dev going and De’Andre when he gets into the game. He had what 10 assists tonight? If we starting hitting shots, he’ll have a 15-assist game before he’s done here.”

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