Behind a balanced scoring attack and a solid second half defensive effort, the Virginia basketball team picked up a 70-61 win against Wake Forest on Wednesday in its ACC home opener. The Cavaliers played without its full roster or coaching staff available due to coronavirus quarantine requirements, but improved to 2-0 in league play despite being short-handed.
The Hoos have won nine straight games against the Deacs and they own four straight victories in ACC home openers.
“We knew we were going to have to come together,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “I thought we had a spirited week of practice and obviously events that happened today, you know there’s a lot of stuff going on, but we just talked about let’s try to take a step in the right direction. When the game started, I thought offensively we were pretty good in the first half. We got the shots we needed, but defensively, we had a lot of trouble. Again they were hitting shots. We had some breakdowns. And then the second half I thought we adjusted well. … Obviously, we didn’t have a lot of numbers in the rotation, but we played tough enough in the second half. We responded well to adversity and being shorthanded and, you know, a very good second half from my standpoint.”
The performance in the second half erased a five-point deficit at intermission and carried the Hoos to the winner’s circle. They outscored the Demon Deacons 36-22 in the second half after they quickly took control and surged to their first lead of the game. The hosts put together a 14-4 run in the first 5:24 of the second half to move ahead and they led for the final 15:19 after breaking the game’s final tie.
The half opened with a Reece Beekman layup, which Sam Hauser followed with a traditional and-one play in transition. Two free throws from Trey Murphy III tied the score at 41 all and UVA claimed its first lead when Kihei Clark hit a fading jumper in the paint. Following one last tie at 43-43, Jay Huff gave his team the lead for good when he scored down low and Murphy added to it with a 3-pointer moments later. That lead eventually bloomed to a 13-point advantage just after the midway point of the second half and Virginia took care of business from there. The Wahoos shot 53.8% for the game (28-52) and 30% from 3-point range (6-20).
The flurry to take the lead resembled the box score as a whole. All five starters that scored during that stretch landed in double figures for the game. Murphy finished with 13 points on another good night from 3-point land (3-6), while Beekman stepped up with 12 points, 3 assists, and 5 steals. Huff chipped in 11 points, while Clark had 10 points and 3 assists.
Hauser, meanwhile, led the way with 16 points as part of his second consecutive double-double for the Cavaliers as he added 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal too. He’s now leading the team in scoring and rebounding through seven games. He has scored in double figures in six of seven games, including 13 points and 16 points to start ACC play. Those numbers have come despite missing some 3-point looks that he’s known for making. Against the Deacs, he hit 6 of 7 shots inside the arc but just 1 of 6 behind it.
“The three ball wasn’t falling,” Hauser said. “That’s when I had to take advantage of using the rest of my game. I’m not just a shooter. I can do a lot of things. Obviously find my spot in the mid-post and playing out of there – kind of creating and making the right play. It’s not always to go score, but sometimes other guys get open by me being aggressive. I am just trying to find other ways to score than just the three ball. I think I’ve done a good job with that the last couple games.”
With multiple players sharing the scoring load and the team dishing out 11 assists, the Hoos had to overcome a shaky first half of defense to make the offense hold up on the scoreboard.
That flipped the season script defensively. After allowing multiple teams to start cooking in the second half this season, UVA put the clamps on Wake Forest after intermission as the hosts allowed just 38.1% shooting. In the first half, however, the Demon Deacons fired away at a 62.5% clip, including a 6-10 half from 3-point range. They led 39-34 at the break.
That rough first half allowed Wake to build a 12-point lead with 8:47 on the clock. A combination of drives and ball screen offense troubled the Cavalier defense again. Daivien Williamson’s jumper pushed his team out to its biggest lead, while Ismael Massoud contributed early too with a trio of 3-pointers. Williamson finished with 8 points, while Massoud cooled off with just one more triple and 13 points. Jonah Antonio and Isaiah Mucius led the way for Wake with 14 points each.
By the end of the opening half, however, UVA started to reel in the deficit and then the second half defense helped get this one into the win column. The Deacs scored 28 points in the first 12:11 of the game and just 32 points over the final 27:49. That included only 22 points in the second half.
“Our defense [attributed to the turnaround],” Beekman said. “At first we weren’t really pressuring the ball and then in the second half, we really started pressuring the ball. We were trying to make them make mistakes and make it tough on them, because when you just sit back and let the team run their offense, they going to get the shot that they want. We just wanted the second half to be harder on them.”
“Our defense stepped up. It’s pretty simple,” Hauser said. “The defense in the first half we seemed like we were a step behind. And, obviously, there was an emphasis for the second half. In the first four minutes we really came out and asserted ourselves and cut into that lead and then eventually took the lead and our defense just kind of won us the game and the second half.”
The Cavaliers are scheduled to return to action on Saturday at Boston College at 2 p.m. They are expected to be without assistant coaches Jason Williford, Brad Soderberg, and Orlando Vandross as well as players Casey Morsell, Austin Katstra, and Kody Stattmann again. Virginia announced before the game that Stattman is out with a non-COVID-19 related cardiac issue and will be sidelined until his evaluation process is completed.