On Tuesday night, the energy of the student section escalated as the clock crept closer to tip-off. From then on, the Hoo Crew drowned out the other team’s introductions, threw streamers, and cheered loudly as the players and coaches entered the floor. A new season with many new faces and a fresh look began at JPJ.
Starting for Virginia was a crew of veterans, with the center position still questionable. “Five guys for basically two spots,” stated Coach Bennett. Austin Nichols was available to start, as a violation of team rules caused him to miss the first game. However, after playing a solid game against UNC-Greensboro with seven points and twenty-seven playing minutes, Jack Salt got the start.
Within seven minutes, though, Nichols finally made his Virginia debut. He scored a quick basket, but then proceeded to make two early fouls. During the second half, he started to look like the player named to the Malone Award Watch list, scoring eleven points overall. In the press conference, Coach Bennett said that, “Austin has really good hands. He can certainly score in the post.”
Mamadi Diakite took the court last night for the first time as well, scoring eight points in sixteen minutes of play. Coach Bennett left Nichols and Diakite in until the end to gain game experience. Although Nichols has played before at Memphis, Isaiah Wilkins talked to Diakite before the game saying, “Be confident in what you do, you’ve done it in practice, and go out there and have fun. He definitely did.”
Eleven players saw playing time in the first half. This gave fans a preview of how different the team will look this year. As the strength of opponents increases, Coach Bennett believes the rotation may replicate this or be tighter. Either way, the depth of the Virginia bench gives the team an extra edge. Coach Bennett said, “There’s great competition on this team for opportunities to play.”
Rookies Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are proving themselves as great complements to London Perrantes. Both seemed to have matured in their short time here, as they are well integrated into Tony Bennett’s system. Most notably, during the first half, Guy made a hard pass behind his back to Jarred Reuter for the dunk.
Virginia scored quickly and with added flair early in the second half, starting with dunks by Jack Salt and Isaiah Wilkins. For a team that last year scored an average of 67.6 points per game, the Terriers could not keep up. Their top leading scorer, Yunus Hopkinson, was limited to four points in the first half while their other key player Glenn Sanabria did not score.
Although this was four players first time in front of a roaring Virginia fan base, the returners did not disappoint. Marial Shayok carried the momentum from his 15 points last game, scoring eight last night. He also blocked a shot that brought fans up and out of their seats. Perrantes and Hall scored 8 and 4 points respectively, assisting their new teammates and keeping the game under control.
If this game was any representation, it should be a great season at JPJ. The mixture of rookies and veterans gives a different vibe to a team that looks to go far. They will take on Yale in Charlottesville this Sunday.