We expected Hampton to come in and give the Cavaliers a fight at John Paul Jones Arena on Friday night, and they did not disappoint. The Pirates had thrashed Appalachian State by 33 points in their most recent contest - the same Appalachian State team that beat Davidson by 16. By the Transitive Property of Sports, therefore, Hampton should be able to beat the Hoos by around 15. Fortunately, the Transitive Property of Sports is almost as complete horseshit as Coach K's saintliness. But notice was served: the Hampton Pirates can play and you don't want to get Wofforded.
Early on, Hampton showed that they were indeed ready to fight as they ground out a 14-9 early lead with tough defense and tougher shots. Not a team that shoots the three particularly often or particularly well, the Pirates hit two of them with a hand in the face, and added a one-handed, falling away runner by 6-0 point guard Jermaine Marrow over the 6-5 Ty Jerome. Meanwhile, the Hoos were missing good shots and being limited to one try per possession by the quick Hampton rebounders. Virginia kept close by driving to the basket, led by Devon Hall who wasn't successful at scoring for himself, but he set up an Isaiah Wilkins follow and Jack Salt for a pair of free throws.
Almost eight minutes in, the visiting Pirates had the 14-9 lead and Wilkins was on the bench. Jerome came off a Mamadi Diakite screen at the elbow and received the pass from De'Andre Hunter. A couple of dribbles toward the lane put Jerome's defender off balance. When the defender tumbled onto his ass, Jerome found himself all alone behind the three-point line. He seemed to shrug and say to himself, "What the hell - why not?" then lined up the shot and nailed it.
Wilkins then came back into the game and said "enough of this shit." He and Jerome snuffed out the Pirates challenge on both ends of the floor. Wilkins ran down a fast break from behind and erased the shot. Jerome drove the lane and whipped a pass to Wilkins under the boards, who whipped the ball out to Nigel Johnson wide open on the arc. Johnson calmly gave Virginia the lead at 15-14. After Hampton took it back with their own three, Wilkins and Jerome forced a turnover, Jerome fed Wilkins for the tying dunk, and Wilkins made the play of the game:
That play led to this play where Zay protected the ball from a steal attempt and whipped it into the corner to Jerome who was wide open because his man had thought he could best the Isaiah. Jerome buried the shot and with it the Pirates:
Virginia would never trail again.
Hampton hung in there a while longer, but Zay was too much, using guile where strength and hustle would not serve. The Hoos had pulled out to a 24-20 lead, but once again Hampton hit a contested three to slash that lead, and Wilkins just said "to hell with this" and took over the game. He drew a foul and technical on the offensive boards with a "wily crafty veteran" play that he and Hall converted into four made free throws, then the two seniors seized the ball from Hampton's sophomore leader Marrow. Kyle Guy found the range for his only points of the first half: a three pointer that made it 31-23 and you could tell the Pirates knew their ship was going down.
Wilkins then sank them with another hustle play and more guile. Hedging out in Ty Jerome area, he raced back to the post in time to nudge his man into missing from close range and save the ball to Guy, who took the ball down to the other end and set up Hunter's first heroics:
Suddenly the lead was in double digits and the rest of the game was the Cavaliers taking turns showing what they could do. Jerome would close out a 10-point first half with a driving left-handed layup, then contest a shot that Wilkins would tip out to Hunter, who raced downcourt and powered through a defender for the buzzer-beating layup and largest lead of the game at 40-25.
Hampton momentarily created the potential for a little drama when they hit their penultimate three-pointer on the first possession to draw back within 12. Devon Hall snuffed out that faint hope when he came off a Jack Salt screen and buried a countering three. The teams traded a couple of baskets, then Wilkins fed Diakite for a vicious dunk and Guy went on a personal 7-0 run and it was 54-30 Hoos and the rout was on.
The second half was notable for spectacular plays by the freshman class, but also for the high quality defense played by the second unit.
When Marco Anthony came in for Ty Jerome in the 6:38 possession, the second five was on the floor: Huff and Diakite in the post, Hunter and Anthony on the wings, and Johnson running point. That unit gave up a single free throw in six defensive possessions, outscoring Hampton 12-1 in three-and-a-half minutes. This was in stark contrast to previous games where the second unit was sloppy and disorganized. Rather than give up a massive run to make a less humiliating final score, they tied up the non-conference season with a neat bow and handed Coach Bennett a 0.17 Defensive Efficiency to put under his Christmas tree.
Huff showed improved discipline in the lane, Hunter showed increased confidence and aggressiveness on offense and in transition, and Anthony showed that he can make a play, too. Hunter may have taken a big step toward finding his offensive niche, as he attacked the rim with panache. Diakite was caught on camera paying it forward with some mentoring of Huff and Hunter, and Johnson kept everything under control, closing out a 4 assist, 0 turnover effort. When he left the floor to join the other veterans on the bench, it was 79-41.
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