The Virginia Men’s Basketball team kicked off their 2017-18 campaign tonight with a gritty win over visiting UNC Greensboro. In a rematch of last year’s season opener, in which UVA won easily, the Hoos were once again able to come out with a 60-48 win, although this time around they were met with much more resistance.
The Cavaliers started very slowly in the first half, shooting only 34.8% and scoring 11 of their 29 points from the charity stripe. Second year guard, Kyle Guy fueled the team’s offense in the half, scoring 14 of his 16 total points in the period, including two, three pointers. Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins also got off to a hot start, making three of his first four attempts to go into the break with 9 points. Devon Hall, the other senior on the team, also added 6 points in the opening 20mins, making both of his two field goal attempts. The rest of the team was slow to start, going a combined 0-15 and adding no additional points. However, the team collectively played very good defense, holding UNCG to 26% shooting and only 20 points in the frame.
The defense carried over very well into the second half, where the Spartans were held without a field goal until near the 14:00 minute mark. As the team’s defense became more effective, so did the offense, with transfer guard Nigel Johnson scoring his first career basket on a nifty runner five minutes into the period. He finished with 7 points and 6 rebounds. Devon Hall added a step-back three-pointer and pushed his total to 13 points on the night, to go with 2 assists and 6 boards. The Hoos built the lead all the way up to 19 before UNCG stopped the bleeding with a deep three-pointer from Kyrin Galloway.
The Spartans would fight back however, going on a 15-4 run to close to within 8 points with a little over six minutes to play. But Virginia would not let up, Nigel Johnson scored on an impressive drive to hoop, immediately followed by a much-needed three from second year, Ty Jerome. Following a pair of free throws from Guy, the Hoos wouldn’t look back, never allowing the Spartans back within 10 and finishing with a score of 60-48.
Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome have the Green Light-
The second year tandem of guards shot the ball early and often, with mixed amounts of success. While Guy ended with 16 points, on 3 for 8 shooting, Jerome went 3 for 10, and only 1 for 7 from behind the arc. Head coach Tony Bennett was not at all discouraged by Jerome’s play saying “When he settled down, he made some good plays,” a sentiment that was reiterated by his teammates with Devon Hall saying, “Ty Jerome got in the lane and found people. Even though he didn’t shoot it well tonight, he’s a terrific shooter.” The pair were first and second in attempts for the team and are clearly ready to embrace their roles as go-to scorers in the post-London Perrantes era.
Nigel Johnson is FUN-
The fifth-year transfer out of Rutgers brings a new element to Hoos: speed. As Bennett put it, “Nigel brings a dimension with his quickness,” a dimension the Cavaliers have lacked in years past with the relaxed playing-style of former point guard, London Perrantes. Nigel plays with a quickness and swagger that reflects his Big Ten background. On several occasions, he made crafty passes off impressive dribble moves, and although he did not record an assist, his movement off-ball led to multiple open looks. His lateral quickness and aggressiveness also translated well to his defense, where he locked down his man and stopped drives to the rim. He will likely become a fan-favorite due to his energy and enthusiasm on both ends of the floor.
Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall are the lone returning-seniors and leaders of this young team. Tonight they played like it. Wilkins was as aggressive as he has ever been, finishing with 9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocks. He affected every aspect of the game and was on the floor for a team-high 36 minutes. He showed off his midrange game, hitting several jumpers over the course of the contest, and even showed glimpses of a promising post-up game. Hall was terrific throughout the entirety of the game, finishing with 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting, to go with 2 assists and 6 rebounds. Although not the flashy players that Guy, Jerome, and Johnson are, these two are incredibly consistent and should steady the team throughout the season.
-UVA also played UNCG to open the season last year, defeating them on the road with a final score of 76-51. The Spartan’s head coach, Wes Miller, said after the game that “I don’t ever want to schedule [Virginia] again. The last two years haven’t been very fun.”