Virginia basketball’s third year guard Ty Jerome is arguably the most competitive player on the team. He plays the game just straddling that line between confident and cocky. Jerome is—along with fellow third year Kyle Guy and fifth year Jack Salt—one of the natural leaders of this 2018-19 Virginia team. As Dana O’Neil wrote for the Athletic ($$) this week, Jerome has had to adjust his leadership style to effectively reach all of the Cavaliers.
Well, it’s clearly working as the Hoos are one of two unbeaten teams in the country (along with Michigan), rank No. 4 in the country, and Coach Bennett has one of his most offensively gifted teams to go along with the always stellar defense. Heading into Saturday’s game with No. 1 Duke, Virginia ranks No. 1 on KenPom with the second-best defense and third-best offense in the country.
Jerome is playing no small part in that success. He’s averaging 13.2 points per game, third on the team behind Guy (15.3 ppg) and De’Andre Hunter (14.4 ppg). His game is so well-rounded with rebounding (4.1 per game), steals (a team-leading 29 on the season), and a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio that’s third best in the ACC. Oh, and he’s shooting 41% from three.
Already this season, Jerome has reached double digits in 11 of 16 games and scored 20+ points three times. His best game of the season, however, came against No. 9 Virginia Tech on Tuesday night.
Right out of the gate, you could tell Jerome was feeling it. He had a hand in—either assisting or scoring—Virginia’s first 19 points of the game, including his first three-pointer that he splashed in from downtown Charlottesville.
“Was it really that deep?” Jerome questioned after a reporter post-game asked him if he was feeling it early when he pulled up from the Virginia Tech coach’s box.
His competitive fire was on display from the get-go, but was unquestionable after his second three of the game. On the play, Jerome looked for a call after seemingly getting swiped by Tech’s Justin Robinson. Jerome appealed unsuccessfully to the ref, but continued the play and cut to the corner where he received a pass from Hunter. He buried the three to make it 11-4 early in the first half. After making the shot, he seemed to have some words for the Tech bench.
Jerome is pissed about a no call so he does this. This is a kid who will just not fail. There’s no way in my mind he’ll be anything other than a + NBA contributor pic.twitter.com/hOC18fHBmm— . (@Ross_Homan1) January 16, 2019
This is Virginia’s best offense since the the 2016 squad led by Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, London Perrantes, and Mike Tobey. That team finished the season with an offensive rating of 120.6, ranked No. 8 in the country. This year, the Hoos are at 120.2 and firing on all cylinders.
After seemingly being unwilling to make offensive adjustments from the blocker-mover, Coach Bennett has added some wrinkles. Virginia still bases the offense on the blocker-mover, but there have been notably more instances of taking advantage of individual matchups (hi, De’Andre Hunter on Justin Robinson), some pick-and-rolls, and more flexibility for Jerome and Guy to run off screens when Kihei Clark comes in and runs the point.
Against Virginia Tech, the Virginia offense got whatever they wanted as the Hoos achieved a blistering 1.45 points per possession, led by Hunter (21 points) and Jerome. The latter notched the first double-double of his career in the win, pouring in 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting (4-for-7 from three) and dishing a new John Paul Jones Arena record 12 assists.
“Yeah, I think we ran a few more ball screens,” Jerome said after the dominating win over the Hokies. “I just made the right reads off them. Mamadi [Diakite] did a great job rolling and finishing, and guys did a great job of making shots around me.”
Make shots is a nice way of putting it as the Hoos went 10-for-14 from three in the first half, and finished the game shooting 59% from the field. He did it with some flare, lacing passes through the Tech defense and having a sixth sense as to where his teammates were at any given moment.
Here are all 12 assists in one glorious video:
“Sometimes you’ve got to be extremely confident and kind of just throw it to them, especially when you’ve got shooters around you, guys around you like these two [Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter].”
It certainly does help when you have teammates that can shoot at the clip that Guy (47% from three), Hunter (52% from the field), Braxton Key (51% from the field), and Mamadi Diakite (58% from the field) do. In true Jerome fashion, however, he’s always looking to add to his numbers.
“If the guys dribble and make it, I’m going to start counting those too.”
In his first trip to Cameron Indoor, Jerome had 12 points, three steals, and seven assists to just one turnover. His late three-pointer took the air out of a super-charged atmosphere and helped seal Virginia’s first win at Duke in over two decades.
It certainly won’t be easy as the Hoos take on the Blue Devils as Duke’s defense ranks No. 4 in the country and thrives off of turnovers. Their block percentage of 19.1% is second best in the nation, meaning the Hoos will have to be solid from outside again. With Jerome on the court, however, the Cavaliers are in good hands.
Virginia and Duke square off Saturday at 6pm. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Which was your favorite Jerome dish on Tuesday night?
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Kihei Clark to end the half
Duo to Jay Huff for exclamation point dunks
10th assist to get the double-double
Behind the head to Key in the corner