The word, unexpected, sums up the beginning of 2017 for Virginia Men’s Basketball. Prior to the start of the season, few anticipated that Wake Forest would arrive in Charlottesville holding the same conference record (1-2) as the Cavaliers. The past two nail-biting losses that stunned the Hoos were also not predicted. During the second half on Sunday night, though, Virginia reclaimed their status as a stifling defensive team with a potent offense.
Coach Bennett altered his starting lineup, as Marial Shayok, who has been deemed the sixth man this season, replaced Thompson as a starter. Shayok proceeded to hit a long jump shot to begin the game on a high note.
“I decided to go with, what I thought, was our most physical lineup to start the game. He [Shayok] gives us a little more physicality,” Bennett said.
From there, though, the Hoos struggled to shake Wake’s offense as the two teams matched each other basket for basket. After a shot clock violation by the Demon Deacons, it looked like the Hoos may have broken through, earning a small four-point lead. In his press conference, Coach Bennett expressed his concern that his team couldn’t pull away, though, after building those small leads.
With two minutes left in the half, Wake Forests’ Brandon Crawford was fouled by London Perrantes on a three point shot. In reaction to this, Coach Bennett jumped out of his chair, running to the spot of the foul, and arguing with the referee. This took us into half time with a score of 28-29, and another shock for the Cavaliers.
Perrantes came out of the half on fire, hitting two threes in the first five minutes. After keeping the same game pace as the first half, Darius Thompson found a spot on the floor he liked, right in front of Virginia’s bench. Thompson’s back-to-back three pointers brought the silenced crowd right back into the game. Devon Hall’s three and Jack Salt’s dunk sparked Virginia’s offense to a 19-5 run in the last ten minutes.
Perrantes later commented on the impact of Salt’s dunk. “It sparked a lot of energy to the whole crowd and the team. That was a big mental boost. Seeing Jack [Salt] get some hustle points is huge for his confidence and huge for the team.”
Virginia’s defense finally strengthened in the second half, as pressure caused the Deacs to turn the ball over twelve times. Once the offense appeared in conjunction, the Hoos built a nominal fifteen-point lead that they held the rest of the game, ending with a score of 79-62. Perrantes contributed to that margin greatly, leading his team with 24 points.
“I think he makes the game a lot easier. Especially when he’s getting into the lane and if he‘s got a wide open drive, people have to help and he’s able to kick it to us or get to the rim and make plays. That’s what he does really well,” Hall said.
UVA will have a few days off before their next challenge against a physical Clemson, next Saturday at 12:00 PM.