For several games this season, the Virginia basketball team managed to mask some of its struggles on offense with steady enough defense to stay in the winner’s circle. The offensive issues finally blew up on the Cavaliers on Wednesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and the defense wasn’t anywhere close to its needed level to keep the score close. Purdue hammered the Hoos, 69-40, in a game that featured a double-digit lead for the final 28 minutes.
That outcome delighted the 14,804 ruthless fans that packed Mackey Arena. The Boilermaker fans, of course, had vengeance on their minds after last season’s heart-breaking loss to Virginia in the Elite Eight. The Hoos forced overtime in that game on a last-second shot and won in the extra period, which denied Purdue its first trip to the Final Four since 1980.
The Boilermaker players may not have had payback on their minds, but they were clearly motivated. The win against fifth-ranked Virginia was Purdue’s first win ever in the 52-year history of Mackey Arena over a top five non-conference opponent.
“For me, I wasn’t looking at it as revenge at all,” Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic said. “I think it’s a totally different team, I think we’re a totally different team. I think it was more that they’re a terrific team this year so I think – last year, it happened; there’s nothing you can do about it now – I think we just came in and wanted to fight them and wanted to do what we do best and I think we did it.”
“I had a feeling there was going to be extra motivation [for Purdue] in that setting, but take that out of it,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “They cleaned our clock, and they deserve all the credit. We’ve got to respond.”
Stefanovic played a big role in the outcome after joining the starting lineup for the Boilermakers. He scored his team’s first 9 points on a trio of 3-pointers and never looked back. He ended up with a game-high 20 points on the strength of 6-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. That bolstered Purdue’s offense, which presents multiple screening actions and concepts to opponents. The hosts eventually hit 52% of their 3’s (13-25) and 45.3% of their shots overall (24-53).
It also jumpstarted the energy level on the floor and in the stands. Virginia never really recovered. Purdue hounded ballhandlers all night and generated 12 steals, which helped score 15 points off turnovers. The Boilermakers crashed the glass and pushed the Hoos around to win that category 31-26. They also found a way inside the Pack-Line defense with 18 points in the paint.
By the time the game ended, Purdue had also taken away Virginia’s will to outlast its opponent and that’s truly an unusual sight in most UVA games. For a team struggling to score consistently, to drift away from its identity on the defensive end only made it worse.
“We didn’t have an answer for anything,” Bennett said. “Our defense, which is what we’ve tried to hang our hat on when we’re struggling to score, couldn’t stop ’em inside, couldn’t stop ’em outside, couldn’t keep ’em off the glass. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
A disaster is exactly what the Hoos got. This represented the biggest margin of defeat since the infamous road game at Tennessee ended 87-52 on Dec. 30, 2013.
Without a strong defensive effort to steady the ship, Virginia’s struggles on offense finally caught up with it. The Cavaliers shot just 37.2% overall (16-43) and once again misfired repeatedly from 3-point range to the tune of 16.7% (4-24). They didn’t help themselves elsewhere either, making just 50% of their free throws (4-8) and grabbing just 4 offensive rebounds for 4 second-chance points. The visitors also coughed up 16 turnovers.
Jay Huff led the way with 11 points in 24 minutes, while Mamadi Diakite added 10 points and 5 rebounds. That duo couldn’t help the perimeter offense get going very much either, however, even with pick-and-pop looks and step-in 3-pointers available. They combined to hit 3 of 11 3-point attempts. Beyond that production, Virginia picked up 7 points from freshman Casey Morsell and 6 more from freshman Justin McKoy. Kihei Clark had 2 points and 4 assists.
A slow start essentially doomed the Hoos. They scored 9 points in the game’s first 16:16 and those all came in the first 7:08. At that point in the game, they trailed just 14-9 but the 9:08 drought that followed left them in a double-digit hole the rest of the way. By the time Diakite finally got the Cavaliers on the board again at the 3:43 mark of the first half, Purdue had pushed ahead by 17 points.
Virginia tried to hang around and claw back in it, but it never had enough offense to mount a serious charge nor enough defense to keep comeback hopes alive.
“They came out way more motivated than we were,” Huff said. “Their home floor, their atmosphere, really got them going. But a lot of that was on us, too. We just didn’t come out ready, and it showed from the start. Then toward the end we just kind of gave up fighting.”