Following their loss at Pitt - their second straight in conference play - Virginia head coach Tony Bennett was not happy with the Wahoos’ performance defensively. Virginia gave up 88 points to Pitt, the most since the Hoos surrendered 93 to North Carolina on February 16, 2013.
“After the Pitt game, I kept saying ‘too loose, too loose. It needs to tighten up.’ It wasn’t perfectly tight today, but the bolt maybe turned a half a turn, so now we need to turn it a little more,” Bennett commented. “That’s a process that takes a lot of work.”
“At Pitt we were poor defensively,” Virginia guard Devon Hall said after the game. “He [Coach Bennett] was a little frustrated - as he should have been. I think we were a little frustrated with ourselves.”
Sunday night against the visiting Demon Deacons of Wake Forest, Virginia (12-3, 2-2 ACC) returned to their winning ways with a 79-62 victory. The Hoos had outstanding performances from their upperclassmen, led by lone-senior London Perrantes’s 24 points.
Perrantes came out aggressively, hunting his shots and taking the ball into the paint. He finished 7-for-13 from the field, including 4-for-5 from three, and made all six of his free throw attempts. His 24 points were just two points away from his career high of 26, and the second most he has scored during his time at Virginia.
“I told London something yesterday before practice,” Bennett stated. “I said, ‘London, you’ve had three great years. You’re in a different situation this year. You’ve had probably different pieces around you than you have, and in a strange way for your future...this is really good for your game because you’re going to have to learn how to be as efficient as you can, more is being called upon for you, how to be aggressive but still manage the game.’ But, that’s good for him...I want him to keep pushing the envelope in that way without losing himself.”
The Hoos used a 19-4 run over the course of about six and a half minutes in the second half (#Cavalanche) to break a 46-all tie into a comfortable 15 point lead. Virginia shot 49% from the floor (47% from three) for the game, and clamped down on Wake Forest defensively in the second half as the Demon Deacons’ three point shooting percentage dropped from 41% in the first half to 11% in the second.
“It was certainly a group effort.” Bennett said after the Wake Forest victory. “I just told the guys, ‘Play as hard as you can, as smart as you can, and as free as you can’.”
Bennett, in an attempt to put his most “physical lineup” on the court, started Shayok for the first time this season and was rewarded with a 17 point (on 6-for-10 shooting), four rebound, two assist, and no turnover performance from the junior.
“He played hard, he played well, and he gives us a little more physicality,” Bennett said of Shayok.
Hall, who has been phenomenal of late, put forth another outstanding effort with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting and a team-high eight rebounds. In Virginia’s four conference games (Louisville, FSU, Pitt, and Wake) Hall, a redshirt junior, is averaging 12 points and seven rebounds, and has scored in double digits each game. In the last two games, he has been Virginia’s leading rebounder.
Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt each stuffed the stat box, contributing in all facets of the game from blocks (Wilkins had a career-high five) to free throws (Salt went a perfect 3-for-3 from the line) to points (the duo combined for 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field). That type of performance is crucial for Virginia’s success as the Hoos have struggled with the interior game since the dismissal of Austin Nichols. Salt’s biggest impact was felt part way through the second half when he set a teeth-rattling screen on Wake’s Bryant Crawfod for Darius Thompson, then collected the rebound and flushed it home on the rim and hit the and-one attempt to give Virginia their biggest lead of the game.
“I called that dunk,” Wilkins said of his Kiwi teammate’s rim shaker. “Before the game I was talking to Jack and I was like, ‘Yo, you’re going to get a put-back dunk’. Every time I tell Jack he’s going to get a put-back dunk he gets a put-back dunk. It’s like magic. I don’t call it every time, though...I’ve got to feel it.”
Virginia fans got a scare when Wilkins left the game late in the second half after landing funny going for a rebound attempt against Hall.
“I think he [Virginia trainer Ethan Saliba] said I got a hip pointer?” Wilkins said of the injury after the game. “It’s all good. I was grandpa before so this solidifies it.”
Before Salt’s massive dunk. The Hoos got a huge lift from Thompson as the redshirt junior hit back to back-to-back threes to spark the team and invigorate the restless crowd.
“It was definitely a big momentum changer. Dev[on Hall] happened to find me in the zone,” Thompson said.
Wilkins didn’t realize Thompson’s three pointers were from just about the same spot on the court as his game-winning dagger at Wake last year until it was pointed out to him postgame. “I forgot about that...dang that’s the same game!” Wilkins exclaimed. “Man, that’s crazy! I’m happy we didn’t need it this game.”
Perrantes noticed the similarities, but remarked on one huge difference: “I knew those two were going in.”
With the win, Virginia improved to 2-2 in the ACC, something the team knows not to take for granted.
“I think it’s [the ACC] the toughest conference in the country, so it’s a matter of coming out and playing every single night,” Hall commented. “I know we lost two tough games, and each guy wants to fight every single game, every single possession, so it’s up to us to be able to go out and stick to what we do every night.”
Wilkins agreed. “The ACC is a beast. Every win in the ACC is a good win.”
Going forward, Coach Bennett wants his team to play smarter, harder, and more physical on defense. But above all, he wants them to play their game.
“I shared a quote with the guys before the game, it was a Jimmy Johnson quote,” Bennett told media post game. “‘In order for us to be great, everyone just has to be good.’ Not everyone has to be great and that’s the idea. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be unbelievable, just be good.”
With a myriad of contributors - eight Virginia players average between six and 11 points per game - it seems the Hoos are trying to do just that.