Virginia fans have become accustomed to winning, especially within the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena. Saturday, against No. 25 West Virginia, the Cavaliers’ home win streak of 24 games came to a crashing halt as the Mountaineers outlasted Virginia down the stretch to snag the 66-57 victory. The nine-point loss was Virginia’s biggest since the Tennessee game on December 30, 2013, and their first home loss since February 7, 2015 (Duke).
“West Virginia is an obviously very well coached, physical, tough, veteran team, and you could see that our guys gave effort, but I don’t know if we quite matched the physicality,” Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett said after the game. “We had a couple costly turnovers and they capitalized on those and then I thought they got into our paint at crucial times in the second half.”
The Mountaineers scored 26 points in the paint - which were just about evenly split between the two halves - and 18 points off of 14 Virginia turnovers. Virginia, conversely, only had 14 points in the paint and five points off of eight WVU turnovers.
“We pride ourselves on not letting our opponents get in the paint, and the past few games they’ve been getting in the paint so we have to find a way to get better at that,” Darius Thompson - who led the game in scoring with 14 points - said of West Virginia’s ability to get easy buckets.
WVU had contributions from several players, with Jevon Carter leading the way with 11 points, Nathan Adrian adding 10 points, and six other players with six points or more. Daxter Miles Jr. - who led WVU in scoring in the first half - did not play the second half after an ejection for a Flagrant Two foul. Down the stretch, West Virginia got hot, making 10 of their last 11 attempts and shooting 57.1% in the half.
London Perrantes struggled shooting, going 2-for-10 from the field and 1-for-7 from three, but dished out a season-high tying seven assists to go with three turnovers. Virginia’s other most experienced players had issues with ball control, as Thompson also had three turnovers, and Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall, and Marial Shayok each had two turnovers. First year Ty Jerome, who finished with ten minutes - nine of which came in the second half - had zero turnovers for the game.
“We made a little bit of a run when we had Darius [Thompson], and Ty [Jerome], and London [Perrantes], our three probably best ball handlers,” Bennett commented on his decision to play first year Jerome more down the stretch. “I decided to go with the ball handling, almost three point guard types at times. I thought it would be good and it’s a fine line...you second guess and think about all the different rotations, but it was a game that was a possession game. Then you look at our free throws, and that was concerning, too.”
From the line, Virginia was just 7-for-13 (53.8%), including several misses on the front ends 1-and-1 opportunities. The Hoos have a slim margin for error this season, something Coach Bennett addressed following the Ohio State comeback victory. Against West Virginia, unforced errors kept the game close.
“We had some missed free throws and layups and some open shots as well. I know I missed some shots, a lot of them, but with the teams that we are playing, we can’t put ourselves in a hole that is going to be tough to get out of,” Perrantes stated post-game. “I think we played well defensively and effort wise. We just have to find a way to cut down on the errors.”
While disappointed in the loss, the Cavaliers know the season is still early.
“Not many words were said. Guys were just upset,” Jerome said as he described the locker room atmosphere. “Coach Bennett said, ‘It’s not the end of the season. Learn from this. Grow from this.’ He didn’t think the effort was poor. We just need to fix a few breakdowns and we’ll learn from it and get better.”
Virginia has a chance to exorcise some demons in front of the home crowd as East Carolina comes to town on Tuesday for a 7pm game.
Odds and Ends
-Darius Thompson had the most productive outing of his UVA career - points wise - with 14. His career-high is 16, which he had during his first year at Tennessee.
-This is Virginia’s first home non-conference loss since losing 48-38 to Wisconsin on December 4, 2013, which was also the last time Virginia lost by double-digits at home.
-Isaiah Wilkins led Virginia with eight rebounds, more than double anyone else on the team.