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Virginia overcomes first-half nerves to take out Gardner-Webb, 71-56


NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia vs Gardner-Webb Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Things were ugly early, but Virginia overcame a 14-point first half deficit to pick up a dominating 71-56 over Gardner-Webb. The Hoos came out tight, turning the ball over early and letting the Running Bulldogs get some momentum. Virginia closed within six at the break, and outscored Gardner-Webb 41-20 in the second half thanks to a strong 17-point second half performance from De’Andre Hunter.

Hunter had 23 in the game, followed by Mamadi Diakite with 17 points (13 in the second half), and Ty Jerome with 13 points and six assists. Kihei Clark played 36 minutes and provided a spark on defense and added a huge three late in the first half to close the Hoos within six.

Kyle Guy had a quiet day with just eight points, but he added six rebounds.

Virginia shot 52% from the field and 30% from three, and turned the ball over 15 times. GW got 17 points off of Virginia turnovers, something the Hoos will have to clean up as they go forward. After a hot first half, GW made just seven field goals in the second half (five of them three-pointers).

Gardner-Webb shot 44% from the field and 39% from three, but turned the ball over 12 times in the second half as the Hoos made their comeback.

While Virginia looked uncomfortable and “shook” early, the Hoos buckled down and showed resolve to make a much needed comeback. There are things to fix (turnovers), but a lot of things to like (sharing the ball, making shots).

Gardner-Webb got on the board first with a two down low, but Hunter took his man and finished a dunk through contact to tie things up. Both teams came up empty on their next trips before Jose Perez put the Running Bulldogs on top once more. Jerome tied things up again, and both squads missed on a three. A lazy pass from Jerome was picked off at the top of the key for an easy layup and the 6-4 lead for GW with 15:59 remaining. Another steal gave GW a chance in transition, but Clark got the block to stop the play.

The Running Bulldogs doubled their lead at 8-4 until Guy’s first jumper from the free throw line cut it back to two. Another jumper from GW pushed the advantage to four, and Hunter couldn’t get a three to drop. Two free throws from Eric Jamison made it 12-6, and an offensive rebound and put back for Hunter cut the deficit to four.

Efianayi canned the first three of the game to push GW’s advantage to seven. Traded buckets from Diakite and Laster made it 17-10 with 11:31 to play in the first half. Another three put the Hoos in a 10-point hole before the halfway mark of the first half. Hunter got another to go in the lane to make it 20-12, but Laster answered with a leftie hook to push the lead back to double digits.

Diakite connected on his second bucket of the game, and the defense stepped up to get a much needed stop. Virginia came up empty on their next attempt despite a good lane for Diakite, and Key was called for a blocking foul under the basket. Johnson hit again for GW, and Guy’s three clanged off the back iron.

Cornwall’s jumper put the Running Bulldogs up 12, and Tony Bennett called a timeout to gather the group. After getting down 28-14, Jerome cut it to 12 before Laster finished over Diakite to make it 30-16. Guy finally got a three to fall, and Jerome added one free throw to cut the lead back to 10 with 5:48 to play in the half.

Huff’s three-pointer to cut the lead to seven came off the rim, but Perez couldn’t extend the lead as his three went wide. Guy hit two free throws to close within eight, the defense forced a turnover, and Guy added one more free throw to cut it to seven. Perez connected on his second three of the half, and Key made it 33-25 off of an offensive rebound and put back.

Efinayi made another three, Gardner Webb’s fourth of the first half, and a Huff dunk pulled Virginia back into double-digits. A charge call on Key negated another dunk from Huff, and Clark was called for a block on the other end. The Running Bulldogs were unable to score, and Clark hit a much-needed three to cut it to 36-30 with 45 seconds left in the half. A huge block from Diakite got Virginia the last shot, but Hunter’s three hit off the rim.

Both teams shot 50% or better in the first half with Virginia at an even 50% and the Running Bulldogs at a blistering 54%. GW hit 4-for-9 from three in the first half (44%), while Guy and Clark had the Hoos’ lone threes out of nine attempts. Virginia had six of its eight first half turnovers in the first 8:50, then just two the remaining 11:10 (both called charges). GW got nine points off of the eight turnovers, while Virginia got just two from their four turnovers.

Guy led Virginia with eight points in the first half, followed by Hunter with six, and Jerome with five. The Hoos got six points off of four offensive rebounds, and dug in after being down 14 points.

Gardner-Webb opened up the second half with a travel, and Diakite corralled a miss from Clark to draw a foul. Diakite missed both, but GW missed a three that was pulled in by Guy. Diakite made up for it with a finish at the rim to cut the deficit to four, but a broken play led to a layup from Perez.

The Hoos kept going inside to utilize Diakite’s length, cutting it to 38-34 with 18 minutes left to play. Clark drew an offensive foul, and Jerome found Hunter for an easy dunk to cut back within two. Another traveling call gave the Hoos the ball with a chance to take the lead, but Clark’s layup was blocked and Hunter couldn’t get the offensive rebound.

A missed layup from GW gave possession back to the Hoos, but Guy’s three attempt went wide. Clark somehow came up with the rebound, ran it out of trouble, and found Hunter who finished through contact for the and-one opportunity. His free throw gave Virginia its first lead of the game at the 16:16 mark of the second half. Jerome extended the lead to four with a three-pointer, and the Hoos had an opportunity to extend it after another travel was called on the Running Bulldogs.

Hunter canned an elbow jumper to push the lead to six, but Efianayi hit a three to cut Virginia’s lead in half. Diakite finished with the foul, answering GW’s shot and pushing the advantage back to six. Another turnover from GW gave the Hoos a shot to push the lead, but Hunter’s jumper went long. Laster missed a three-pointer on the other end, and Hunter had a look at three that went halfway down before somehow popping out. The Hoos rebounded the ball, but Jerome’s three wouldn’t go either.

Another steal from Clark led to a floater in the lane by Jerome, and Hunter extended the lead to 11 with a three. Another three — this one from Braxton Key — pushed Virginia’s second half run to 23-3 before Perez hit a deep three to make it 55-44 with just under 10 minutes to play.

Hunter was fouled and went to the line where he made both to put the Hoos up 13. Clark’s hot day on defense continued as he forced the ball loose to Key, but Guy missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Clark negated a great rebound with a pass out of bounds on the fast break, but Key drew an offensive foul to give the ball back to the Hoos with 8:34 left.

Perez added one free throw to make it a 12-point game, but Jerome added a deep three from the sidelines to push the advantage to 60-45. A missed three gave Virginia another possession and Clark found Diakite for the alley-oop and the 17 point lead. Gardner-Webb wouldn’t go away, canning another three to pull within 14 with 6:37 remaining in the game.

Another dunk from Diakite was negated with a steal and dunk by the Running Bulldogs, but an offensive rebound kept the ball alive for the Hoos and Hunter got a jumper to fall to make it 66-50. GW missed a three with 4:08 to play, and the Hunter hot streak continued with a three ball to put Virginia up 69-50.

Gardner-Webb missed another three as they tried to shoot the deficit down, and Diakite got a shot off the glass to fall for the 21-point lead. Virginia was able to run time off the clock and empty the bench with 1:14 remaining as the demons of the First Round made their exit. Gardner-Webb hit two threes — the second of which came with 19 seconds left — but the Hoos would live to play another game.

Next up, Virginia will face Oklahoma. The time and channel will be announced later.