Sometimes, the term ‘game pressure’ gets applied to sports when a trailing opponent closes the margin on the scoreboard to a threatening level. William & Mary created that in-game challenge for the Virginia men’s basketball team Saturday afternoon when it climbed to within six points early in the second half.
The Hoos had an answer. A big one.
After the Tribe dug back from a 17-point deficit in the first half to make it 34-28 just 1:08 into the second half, the Cavaliers uncorked a 17-2 surge over the next 10 minutes and never looked back in what became a 72-40 win. They reached 11-0 with the victory.
“Well, I mean where do you start?” W&M coach Tony Shaver said. “We were out-classed for sure by a great basketball team. They’re terrific on both ends of the floor. We had great moments in the ballgame. I think we cut it to six there early in the second half, and then there was a -2 run. They’re better in every position than we are and they played better as a team than we did.”
The game’s decisive stretch saw each of Virginia’s five starters contribute a bucket to help squash any burgeoning upset hopes. Mamadi Diakite, making his second straight start, scored first and Kyle Guy followed with a 3-pointer to push the lead back to double digits where it remained the rest of the way. Jack Salt threw down a dunk and De’Andre Hunter canned a 3-pointer sandwiched around the Tribe’s only bucket during the burst. Finally, Ty Jerome added two free throws and then followed with a steal and assist on a layup to Guy, who finished off the run with six straight points that made the score 51-30. The only thing left in doubt at that point was the final margin, which eventually ballooned to 32 points.
That run involving contributions from the starters was a microcosm of their day overall. All five players had at least 6 points. Four shot 50% or better, four had at least 4 rebounds, and four had at least 1 assist. In other words, it was a well-rounded effort from the group.
Guy finished with 16 points and matched his career high with 7 rebounds to go with 1 assist. He also took over sole possession of 10th place on the program’s all-time 3-pointers made list. Jerome posted 8 points, a career-high 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals, while Salt added 6 points and 2 rebounds. Diakite put together his second good outing in a row with 6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 blocked shot.
Hunter, however, led the Hoos with 18 points, which included a career-high 9 made free throws, and chipped in 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals too. That was a bounce-back effort for the sophomore standout. He bookended the exam break with 9 points on 1-of-5 shooting against VCU and 5 points on 2-of-10 shooting against South Carolina. In Saturday’s game, he made 4 of 8 shots and 9 of 10 free throws to get back to double figures in the scoring column. He had opened the year with eight straight games with at least 10 points before the recent two-game slip.
He said after the game that he tried to make sure to look for opportunities.
“Definitely. In the past two games, I have been kind of passive and kind of letting the game come to me, and I just tried to be more assertive this game,” Hunter said.
The Tribe didn’t have enough firepower to counter UVA’s balanced attack. Just two players scored more than three points with forward Nathan Knight really carrying the load overall. He finished with 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting before fouling out in the second half. Knight scored in a variety of ways not solely on post-ups and he left the game to appreciative applause from the host fans at the John Paul Jones Arena.
The Cavaliers clearly were content on letting Knight play against one-on-one defense in order to hug the shooters surrounding him, though. That part of the strategy paid off. William & Mary entered the game averaging 8.7 made 3-pointers per game, but hit just a couple in the loss. The visitors finished 2-of-20 shooting for 10% from behind the arc.
“I thought we guarded well,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Nathan Knight really impressed me. He made some nice drives and scored from the post. They were two of twenty from three. That system is really hard to guard. It’s Princeton action or I don’t want to say for sure. I know Coach Shaver puts his own spin on it and they are very well coached for sure. Shooting is really important in that, when they are spacing five out, or four out. You have to be disciplined on cuts, their back-door cuts, their ball screen splits. I thought that we did a good job, especially in the second half..“
“That was a tough offense to guard,” Guy said. “Coach [Brad] Soderberg did a great job of preparing us. The managers and walk-ons were coming in early for practice to make sure they were running it as hard as they can and as efficiently as they could. So that really helped us disrupt their shots and know where they were going to be at times. I don’t really think we got beat back door too many times – I know I did once. I think it was a well-coached game.”
The Wahoos close out 2018 and non-conference play on New Year’s Eve against Marshall. That game is set for 1 p.m. at the JPJ.