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Game Story: Heartbreaking loss to Nova a stepping stone for Virginia

Hoos have a lot to build on following last-second loss to Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Villanova
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

All so often, pundits, experts, and fans talk about regular season games having the “feel of March”. Usually, they don’t. Today, they were all 100% accurate as #12 Virginia came into a sold out Wells Fargo Center and nearly escaped with a win over the #1 Villanova Wildcats. The reigning national champions eked out a win with 0.02 seconds left on the clock as Donte DiVicenzo tipped in a Josh Hart miss - his one and only made basket of the game - to push Villanova to a 61-59 victory.

Virginia tied the game at 59 with 15 seconds left on a nifty move in the lane by first year Ty Jerome before Villanova executed their final possession. Both London Perrantes and Jerome had three pointers rattle out down the stretch as each team battled for clutch baskets.

“We had chances,” Virginia’s Tony Bennett said after the game. “London’s three rattled in and out, Ty’s three was in and out...we played stretches of good basketball for long periods of time but just enough breakdowns to not be able to come away with a victory.”

“It felt good coming out of my hands, it looked good when it hit the rim,” Perrantes said of his late three. “That was just kind of my night tonight.” Perrantes finished just 2-for-11 from the floor, but dished out six assists and grabbed three rebounds.

“It was an unbelievable basketball game.” Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright stated. “We have so much respect for their team and their program. We were looking forward to this game, we just knew that we would be tested and we knew we were going to come out of this game learning a lot. We got a little lucky at the end, Donte made an unbelievable play, obviously not drawn up. Everything in the first half, the way they guarded us, the way they executed offensively, we’re going to learn from that. We’re going to learn so much form this game. I just love playing Virginia. I think Tony is one of the best coaches ever and I think that program is outstanding.”

The Hoos started off strongly on the defensive end, forcing Villanova to shoot 1-for-10 from three with Kris Jenkins (0-for-6) and Josh Hart (0-for-2) failing to connect from deep despite coming both into the game shooting better than 38% from beyond the arc.

In the second half?

Jenkins, Hart, and Mikal Bridges combined to shoot 6-for-6 from three. Not one miss from the Wildcats from downtown in the last 20 minutes, and they shot a stifling 13-for-18 (72.2%) from the field.

“They’re a good team, so there’s no way we’re going to shut them out completely.” Perrantes said. “They just made plays at the end.”

The star of the game for the Hoos was undoubtedly first year Ty Jerome, who continued to build off of his breakout game at Notre Dame. He finished 6-for-9 from the field (3-for-6 from three) for 15 points and contributing a steal in 24 minutes. While the numbers alone were impressive, what stood out the most was not only his ability to knock down shots down the stretch, but his desire to do so. Down two with about 30 seconds left on the clock, Jerome waved off his teammates and took the isolation play, finishing with a bucket to tie the game.

“He’s a gamer,” Bennett said of Jerome. “He doesn’t wow you with his athleticism, but he’s got good size, good feel, got off to a great start knocking down those threes...he just made some tough plays.”

Villanova trailed 31-22 at the half, their lowest point total in a half this season. They shot just 18% from the field in the first twenty minutes, but were buoyed by 13 points from the free throw line (in 14 attempts). In all, Villanova went 20-for-24 at the line to Virginia’s 3-for-3 (all of which came in the first half).

With regards to the free throw discrepancy, Virginia’s lone scholarship senior took the high road.

“I’m not going to say anything about that,” Perrantes stated. “It’s just the way the game is played. Sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don’t. You’ve got to fight through it. We fought through it to the end, we just came up short.”

Despite the outcome, there is a lot to like from today’s game. Isaiah Wilkins went a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds with two blocks and a steal. Jack Salt was 2-for-2 from the field with three offensive boards and an assist and steal. Marial Shayok showed off all of his versatility with 50% shooting from the field.

“I think it was great practice for that [NCAA tournament]. That was a fun, fun game,” Wilkins said. “We made plays, they made plays so it was great practice...great game. You want to get in these situations before March and before the ACC tournament. The place was rocking, crazy was good practice.”

Bennett felt the same regarding the non-conference matchup so late in the season, saying: “You play against a team of that caliber, as well coached, and as good as those guys was a great atmosphere, and we had our chances. We’ll grow from it and I hope it was good for both of us. I wish we could have come away with a win, but it’s middle of the season so hopefully it will be good for us down the stretch.”

With their most brutal stretch of the season underway, so far the Hoos have performed admirably with a gutsy 17 point win on the road at #14 Notre Dame and a strong outing today against Villanova. Up next, the Hoos have to defend their home turf against in-commonwealth rivals Virginia Tech, before heading to Syracuse and hosting #13 Louisville (and then playing at Tech and hosting Duke...etc). The ACC this season is proving to be the gauntlet everyone expected, and Virginia’s mettle against one of the best teams in the country will pay dividends down the stretch.