Despite being almost 350 miles from the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena, the Virginia faithful sent raucous cheers through the Barclays Center as Jack Salt tipped in a miss from Devon Hall with two minutes to play.
From the stands, chants of “Jack Salt” rained down. The redshirt third-year captain for the Hoos didn’t hear it, however.
“I didn’t know,” Salt said from the dais in the post-game presser. “They were probably just surprised I was scoring so much. It was a good game. Ground it out. It was a bit ugly at the end, but it was good to get it.”
Salt scored all eight of his points in a 6:26 span in the second half and hauled in six of his eight rebounds in the final 20 minutes of the game. For someone who came into Friday night’s game against Clemson averaging just 3.4 points per game, his eight-point performance on 4-for-5 shooting was straight fire.
But what impressed the most was not the amount of scoring, but the variety with which Salt scored. His first bucket (the 3:53 mark of the video), came on a left-handed hook shot over a defender. The second (the 4:30 mark) was a right-handed hook off the glass over the lengthy Elijah Thomas with two seconds left on the shot clock.
“I’ve been telling him, ‘don’t be afraid to spin and use your right hand’,” Kyle Guy said post-game of Salt’s moves. “I tell him lightly, because he hates doing it. That was the first time I’ve seen him use it...unless it’s in a drill. My hat’s off to him. He played his ass off today.”
Salt’s third bucket was left-handed floater over a defender (4:42 mark) and the last was the tip-in follow (5:05 mark).
Friday night’s performance was Salt’s second-highest scoring output of the season, behind only his 10 points against Savannah State on December 19, 2017. So much of what he brings to the court isn’t reflected in the stats as he is known for his bone-crushing screens and holding things down on the defensive end. Much like his big man compatriot Isaiah Wilkins, Salt has added the tip-out rebound to his repertoire.
It’s more than that, though. His understanding of the Bennett system, both offensively and defensively, is crucial to the play on the court. Up close, you can see him calling screens and directing traffic on offense. Salt’s 64% shooting percentage from the field is a team-high (outside of Jay Huff, who has 526 fewer minutes on the season), and he’s second on the team with 4.2 rebounds per game. Defensively, he uses his frame to stifle and frustrate opponents and has added 22 blocks and 11 steals.
Often times, that doesn’t show between the black and white type on the box score, but big night in the stat sheet or not, it’s hard to get the Kiwi big man to talk about himself. “I guess it’s just the way I am,” Salt said. “We’re really a team. How we play, the style we play, it’s not an individual...if we win it’s not because of an individual it’s a team effort. I try to give all the praise to the team and the coaches. That’s just who we are.”
After the game, he even got pulled for the postgame on-camera interview, something he never has to deal with.
“As soon as the girl came up and grabbed me and I thought I’d have to go do one of those [on camera postgame interviews], I was just focusing. I was like, ‘Jack, make sure you focus here’.”
“I think I did alright,” Salt said with a smile. “I was really zoning out.”
Where Salt won’t talk about himself, his teammates and coach will. Before the season, Coach Bennett named Salt, along with Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, a team captain. It was something new for Virginia’s coach in his ninth year, but he felt Salt’s selfless devotion to the program and the process made him a worthy candidate.
“We’re here because of guys like that who are servants, who screen, run the floor, rebound, and do whatever you ask. And he’s unbelievable and he was named a captain this year as a third year, which we usually don’t do.” Bennett told the media in the post-game press conference. “So he’s just all heart, and he’ll do whatever you ask. That’s the way he was raised.”
Teammate Ty Jerome leaned towards the microphone and looked out at the room with a smile.
“I don’t know what I’m going to say after that.”
In typical Salt fashion, the response was short, sweet, and deflecting.
“You don’t have to say anything.”