When the Virginia basketball team returned from a coronavirus related pause Tuesday, the Hoos made sure that the unexpectedly long break didn’t make it look like they took a long winter’s nap while away. The Cavaliers jumped on William & Mary early, shook off a brief stumble at the start of the second half, and cruised to a comfortable 76-40 victory at the John Paul Jones Arena.
The Wahoos, who improved to 4-1 with the win, said that the time away didn’t impact their play or conditioning as much as they may have anticipated.
“Three days ago, we all came in prepared knowing we had a big game ahead of us against William & Mary,” Virginia’s Kadin Shedrick said. “We had to focus, lock in, and really hone in on what we had to do to win this game. And so now we’re going to look forward to Gonzaga, and you know keep building off of this. It was difficult at first to come in after 10 days, but it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. It felt like we hadn’t missed that much.”
“I think that quarantine really, there is a little bit of hunger in us and we’re also just like so eager to play,” Cavalier forward Trey Murphy III said. “And then we came back on Saturday like it was really clicking, like it was crazy that we were out for 10 days. In that first practice back it was one of our better practices. I think we really just missed each other a lot and we’re all just happy to play with each other again. We were really excited to play again.”
The eagerness to play showed up quickly. UVA stormed out to leads of 7-0, 13-4, and 24-6 over the first nine minutes as different players took turns dunking or slipping into open shots. By the time the first half dust settled, Virginia owned a 36-14 lead with nine players in the scoring column. The Cavaliers knocked down 55.6% of their shots (15-27) in the first half, while limiting the Tribe to 18.5% (5-27).
Much of that discrepancy in the first half came courtesy of the Hoos’ ability to break down the defense off the dribble, while the visitors couldn’t find many cracks at all on the other end. Offensively, Kihei Clark used ball screens and open creases to touch the paint early, which led to offense for himself and set-up opportunities for teammates. He opened the scoring with a runner in the paint, dropped off a pass for a Murphy dunk, sliced through for an easy layup, and left a pass for Shedrick to slam home easily too.
Others were breaking down the defense too. Casey Morsell came off the bench and scored two easy buckets. The first came when Sam Hauser got into the paint and delivered a nifty no-look pass that led to an uncontested dunk for Morsell. Later, Morsell drove baseline for an easy layup too. Jay Huff passed out of a double team for a wide open Murphy 3-pointer and Reece Beekman set up two late-half 3-pointers with his passing too.
On the opposite end, Virginia had the clamps on W&M’s leading scorer Luke Loewe and the Tribe struggled to create clean looks for most of the first 20 minutes. Loewe hit just 1 of 6 shots in the first half and UVA forced two shot clock violations as well.
“I think our guys came out focused and ready and looked fairly sharp,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “They’re probably going to say ‘See coach, practice is overrated, we can rest for 10 days and go in those stretches,’ but no, they came out ready, knocked some shots and I thought we played fairly alert defensively.”
After the dominant first half, the only remaining question would be if Virginia could sustain its play in the second half. In the season’s first four games, there had been some issues after halftime on the defensive end. Towson scored 35 points on 44% shooting, San Francisco scored 40 points on 51.7% shooting, St. Francis scored 38 points on 38.7% shooting, and Kent State scored 40 points on 55.6% shooting in the 20 minutes of second-half play.
Coming out of intermission against William & Mary, the first four minutes had a similar look. The Tribe ripped off 11 points in 4:07 as they made 5 of 8 shots (62.5%) with a couple of offensive rebounds leading to second chances in the mix. The flurry turned out to be short-lived this time, though. The visitors managed just one more bucket over the next 6:45 and they didn’t crack the 30-point barrier until fewer than eight minutes remained. They ended up with 26 points in the second half on 39.1% shooting (9-23).
Yuri Covington led William & Mary with 12 points, while Loewe finished with 5 points and 4 assists.
“When we came back, we were in a defensive mindset and we’re all just ready to, like, buy in on it,” Murphy said. “I feel like the main thing was just really being focused on our passion. You have a lot of passion while you’re playing. And you have to find a way. So we just had to make sure to break that barrier.”
With the defense holding up for most of the second half, the offense took care of pushing the margin out to 36 points in the end. The Cavaliers scored 40 points after intermission and the box score showed a shared scoring load. Murphy led all scorers with 15 points to go with 4 rebounds and 3 assists, while Shedrick added 10 points, 7 boards, and a block. Hauser and Huff tallied 9 points each with Huff chipping in 4 rebounds and 3 more blocked shots. He’s had multiple blocks in every game this season and passed Jason Clark for seventh place on the program’s all-time list. He’s up to 113 blocks in his career.
Clark, Morsell, and Beekman all scored 6 points. Clark and Beekman also had 4 assists each. Tomas Woldetensae finished with 5 points as well.
The combination of balanced scoring and a more sustained defensive effort provided a solid tune-up game after the program pause. It also set up a top 20 showdown with Gonzaga in Texas. The No. 16 Hoos are scheduled to face the No. 1 Bulldogs on Saturday at 4 p.m. on CBS. After having several marquee games with Florida, Michigan State, and Villanova fall by the wayside from the original schedule, this late addition will provide the first high profile litmus test of the year.
The Cavaliers are looking forward to the challenge.
“I think you’re going to have to be better in every area, not saying we were poor, but that’s just the reality of that,” Bennett said. “You know I look at that 14 offensive rebounds, you have to have a level of urgency like you haven’t had this year in terms of being back in set and then getting the shooters and everything; it really is that. You’ve got to take care of the ball but you don’t back down. You run your stuff hard, you go against them. I’ve been fortunate enough as a coach at Washington State to play against the good Gonzaga teams. We had great battles, and they’ve done a really great job with having threats offensively, they’ve always been good all over the court. Inside, outside, quickness and so again it tests what you do. You always try to have a program or a team that prepares to play against the best, and we will have to be you at our best with not a ton of prep or a lot of games, but again, grateful for this opportunity.”