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Battle 4 Atlantis: No. 4 Virginia moves on to the semifinals with 74-52 win over MTSU

Hoos will face Dayton in the next round of the tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Middle Tennessee State vs Virginia Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers got off to a good start in the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis with a 74-52 win over the MTSU Blue Raiders. Virginia will face Dayton in their next game after the Flyers upset Butler in their semifinal. Oklahoma and No. 25 Wisconsin will duke it out on the other side of the bracket for a spot in the finals.

De’Andre Hunter finished with 15 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds, just short of Virginia’s first triple-double since Ralph Sampson accomplished the feat in 1979. Kyle Guy added 15 points, and Braxton Key had 13 in the game. Virginia shot 46% from the field in the game and connected on 35% of their threes. The Hoos turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 13 times, but showed some grit when the Blue Raiders closed within eight early in the second half.

MTSU shot just 39% from the field and 23% from three. The Blue Raiders turned the ball over 15 times, leading to 25 points for the Cavaliers. Virginia improved to 4-0 with the win.

Coach Bennett once again went with the Jack Salt-less starting lineup as Mamadi Diakite got the starting nod alongside Guy, Jerome, Braxton Key, and De’Andre Hunter.

Guy got the scoring started on Virginia’s second offensive possession, pulling up for a mid-range jumper to put the Hoos up 2-0. He followed that with a deep three pointer to push the Hoos’ advantage to five as the defense stymied everything the Blue Raiders attempted.

A fast-break layup by Jerome and a floater in the lane from Diakite put the Cavaliers up 9-0 with 15:46 to play in the first half. MTSU got their first points of the game from the free throw line with 15:28 to play and then followed on their next possession for their first field goal 5:03 into the game.

Offensively, the Hoos were clicking early as they got buckets from every starter in the first 6:19 minutes of the game. Ball movement was crisp as Virginia consistently made the extra pass for a more open look, and the Cavaliers quickly found themselves up 30-9.

A three-pointer from Karl Gamble cut Virginia’s lead to 30-12 and put the Blue Raiders into double digits. Virginia turned it over on their next possession, leading to an easy layup in transition and the first back-to-back scores for MTSU in the game. Two free throws pushed Middle Tennessee’s scoring run to 10-0 before Hunter buried his second three of the game to make it 33-19.

Middle Tennessee closed within 10 at 33-23 with 2:50 to play thanks to back-to-back buckets from James Hawthorne. Hunter hit one of two free throws, but Junior Farquhar made the most of an offensive rebound to pull the deficit back to single digits at nine.

Kihei Clark, who had a three pointer earlier in the game, called his own number and drove the lane for a layup with just under a minute left in the half. A Hunter move under the basket made Virginia’s lead 38-25, and that’s what they’d take into the locker room at the half.

The Hoos shot 56% in the first half and went 5-for-12 (42%) from three. Hunter led the team with 11 points, six assists, and four rebounds in the first half, and Guy and Jerome added seven and six points, respectively. All eight players that took the court for the Hoos in the first half scored, and the defense combined for four steals and three blocks. Virginia turned the ball over seven times in the first half, close to what they averaged per game coming into the matchup (8.5).

MTSU missed their first six shots, but shot 34% from the field in the first half. Donovan Sims and Gamble each had five points for the Blue Raiders in the first 20 minutes.

Key had a shot blocked to start the second half, and MTSU converted a prayer with two seconds on the shot clock to close it back to 10 points. The Blue Raiders pulled within eight points before back-to-back threes from Guy and Diakite pushed it back to 13 points. Hunter’s soft touch at the rim got a friendly roll to make it 45-30 with 16:43 to play.

After jumping out by 17, Virginia once again let the Blue Raiders go on a mini run and score six straight points. Diakite broke the mini drought with a dunk, but Clark trying to push in transition led to an MTSU break the other way and a 49-38 score. Jerome made one of two free throws after a flagrant one was assessed to MTSU for a hook-and-hold, and Virginia retained possession.

Salt made his second bucket of the day on a strong finish through contact to make the Virginia lead 14 with 12:22 left in the game. Guy’s third three of the game gave the Hoos a little breathing room, and Key added two free throws to make it a 17-point lead once again.

In one breathtaking sequence with just over 8:35 to play in the game, Key rebounded his own miss twice, somehow managing to pull himself up off the ground while simultaneously rebounding the ball and finishing through contact.

He converted the and-one opportunity putting Virginia up 60-40. The defense stepped it back up, holding MTSU without a field goal for a 4:33 span down the stretch. Virginia was able to maintain around a 20 point lead for the rest of the game.

Next up, Virginia moves on to play Dayton tomorrow at 4pm. The game will be televised on ESPN.