Austin Nichols had to wait a year and a game, but he finally got his chance to debut as a Wahoo. The 6-9 transfer from Memphis led Virginia in scoring with 11 points in his first game in the orange and blue as the Cavaliers trounced St. Francis Brooklyn 72-32. Despite his year redshirting with the team last season, he still had some pre-game jitters.
“I was a little nervous at first, and then I got that first bucket assisted by Jarred [Reuter].” Nichols commented after the game. “After that it was a little less nerve-wracking.”
Offensively, balance was the name of the game as 12 of 14 players who saw the court scored. Defensively, the Terriers never had a chance against the Pack Line defense that held them to just 13 first half points.
“What I like is how we’re scrambling and we’re trying to contest shots...” Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett said of his defense after the game. “I think this team understands that we’re going to have to be so good defensively and that’s going to be our ticket. We say that’s mandatory for us. We know for us to be our best we have to be so good and play in a way that’s hard for us to play...we know what we have to do, but will we do it.”
Just four days after Virginia stifled UNC-Greensboro - holding them to a 22-minute scoring drought - the Hoos brought the same intensity to the dog fight with the Terriers. In the first half, the Hoos held St. Francis without a field goal for the last 12:49. In the second half, the Terriers had a 7:35 span without a field goal. Glenn Sanabria led St. Francis in scoring with 10 points. As a team, the Terriers went 5-for-26 from three (19.2%).
Five players registered a block for Virginia, and Isaiah Wilkins and London Perrantes each had two steals. Newcomers Nichols and Mamadi Diakite - who also made his season debut this evening - played well within the Pack Line, something they both say is getting easier as they go.
“It seems like every day it’s getting easier and easier for me.” Nichols said after the game. “I like to say like a sponge almost. Learn as much as I can. Just getting better every day.”
“It felt like practice.” Diakite said of his first real-game experience in the Pack Line. “The crowd was there to just help us get through the Pack Line because it’s not an easy thing to do. It takes hard work, a lot of effort, and unity to execute it.”
Although Virginia played a little sloppy in the first half with seven turnovers, the Hoos cleaned it up after halftime. Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter had good first halves, finishing with eight points and nine points respectively. Neither would score (and Shayok didn’t even shoot) again in the second half. Instead, Nichols and Diakite took over. Nine of Nichols’s 11 points and all three of his rebounds came after the halftime break. Diakite, who only had two points on two free throws in the first half, finished with eight points, four rebounds, and a block with 3-for-3 shooting from the field...and has perfected his ability to maintain eye contact with his opponent while dunking.
On a day that Virginia went 0-for-10 from three - their first game without a made three-pointer since playing Drake on November 21, 2011 - the post presence of Reuter, Nichols, Diakite, and Salt (six points on 3-for-3 shooting and two rebounds) was crucial. This scoring by committee could be something that Virginia fans will see frequently throughout the season.
“I think we have to be more balanced. Certainly, certain guys can get hot and you work with them...” Coach Bennett stated post-game. “London [Perrantes] was cold early, but he’s certainly capable of putting up big numbers. Marial can score. We will see with Austin on how it goes when it comes to scoring, but I think this is more of a balanced scoring team, and I like that.”
First year Kyle Guy didn’t have a particularly flashy night, he showed well in the box score with 2-for-4 shooting, five points, two rebounds, two assists, and a block. He’s extremely savvy with the basketball, knowing when to take it in and when to dish amazing dimes like this:
St. Francis Head Coach Glenn Braica was certainly impressed with both Virginia’s offense and defense:
“Virginia is very disciplined in what they do. They don’t let you get to the basket, they trap the post, and they pressure the ball. For their offense, there is an argument of less is more. They don’t do a lot, but the things they do, they are great at.”
With 2:14 remaining, the Green Machine - made up of Jeff Jones, Trevon Gross, and Justice Bartley - took the court to solidify the victory for the Hoos. Bartley scored his first career points with a late bucket, and Gross added a nifty assist and a rebound to break into the stat sheet.
Next up, Virginia welcomes the Yale Bulldogs to John Paul Jones Arena for a game that will be a test for the Hoos. Yale took down Washington in their season opener 98-90 behind freshman Miye Oni’s 24 points and senior Sam Downey’s 22 points. Tip-off is scheduled for 1pm and the game will be shown by ACC Network Extra.