Playing its first game following a 10-day exam break, the Virginia basketball team turned to players that have been through that grind before on Wednesday night. The veterans delivered.
Mamadi Diakite, Kihei Clark, and Jay Huff combined for 39 points and the Hoos toppled Stony Brook, 56-44. That represents the eighth time the Cavaliers have held an opponent to less than 50 points this season. UVA is 8-0 in those games and 95-2 overall in the Tony Bennett era when hitting that defensive mark..
For a team still searching for higher output on offense, that calling card is keeping the Hoos in the victory circle.
“You always work to keep improving, but we have to keep … tightening up our defense even more to keep us in there,” Bennett said. “Did you get some quality shots? If you got some, keep taking them. I liked how we started the game. Stony Brook is very capable. I want to first say, watching them play against Providence and some other teams, they have experienced guards that will pull up off the dribble, they can shoot the ball. I think they’re shooting 39% from three. I knew that they would be a challenge in that regard. … We responded well enough and we just keep fighting to be as good as we can.”
Virginia relied on its most experienced players to provide enough scoring punch for that defensive effort not to go to waste.
In the front court, Diakite and Huff did all the heavy lifting with 25 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, and 1 steal between the two of them. Diakite finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots. Though that stat line didn’t come through the eye-catching highlight plays like dunks or 3-pointers that often accompany big nights for Diakite, he was solid throughout and made 5 of 6 free throws. He had 8 points in the first half to help the team establish an early lead as well.
“It’s always a night where veterans have to step up,” Diakite said. “It’s a matter of the younger guys following their lead. That’s the only question that really matters and I thought they responded well, most of them responded well, that’s the reason we are here with a win tonight.”
Huff, meanwhile, added 12 points, 7 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, and 1 steal to the cause. He came off the bench and helped UVA post a 20-8 scoring edge in that column. He played the majority of the second half with 13 minutes and came through with some key plays down the stretch.
With the lead hovering around 5 points for a long period in the second half, Huff scored on back-to-back possessions near the 6:00 mark and then blocked a shot on the other end that trigged a fastbreak alley-oop dunk from Kody Stattmann. That flurry of plays pushed the lead out to 11 points and any Stony Brook upset hopes faded.
The third member of the trio had a good scoring night too. Clark led all scorers with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, which included a 3-pointer on the game’s opening possession that assured UVA never trailed. Clark made 2 of 4 triples overall. He also dished out 6 assists and that beat out Stony Brook’s team total of 5 helpers on the night.
The only blemish on that stat line was a career-high 6 turnovers. That came one game after Diakite committed 6 turnovers against North Carolina. That could be a sign of players adjusting to the heavier burden with new roles this season.
“I just think it comes from self-inflicted errors, so on my part ball security,” Clark said. “We just have to try to take better care of the ball and just play the game. I know it is my first time really just running the one, but that is no excuse for a point guard.”
While Clark and the veterans set the tone, the Cavaliers also got a good night from two players logging heavy minutes for the first time at Virginia. With the aforementioned alley-oop and another one-handed dunk to his credit, Stattmann ended up with 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists.
UVA also got 8 points and 1 assist from Tomas Woldetensae. The best news of the night from a Hoo fan’s perspective might have been the 2-of-3 shooting line for Woldetensae beyond the arc. That makes him 5 of 7 from downtown the past two games. For a team looking for improved 3-point shooting, that’s a positive development.
That duo contributing to the scoring column meant UVA had five guys scoring 7 points or more in the win and that gave enough breathing room for the Hoos’ defense to handle the rest. The Seawolves shot just 37.8% (17-45) in the game and committed 17 turnovers as well, including several unforced errors in the first half in particular. The only player to reach double figures was Elijah Olaniyi, who had 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
It all was enough for Stony Brook coach Geno Ford to heap praise on the night in and night out effort that UVA produces on that end of the floor.
“They’re just a terrific team, Virginia. They do all of the little things well and their honestly what teams around the country want to emulate and who they want to be,” Ford said. “You see a team that does all of the little things right all the time. They play hard on defense, even when they’re not making shots. You can talk about that all you want, but there are not many teams in the country that can consistently do that. That’s why in the last seven years, they’ve lead the country in defense. … They’re terrific at that stuff. They have great concentration and great mental toughness and they certainly deserved to win the game.”