Triumph Of The ZAY
Virginia and Duke both came into a game with Boston College occupying lofty poll positions, and strong expectations of comfortable wins over the Eagles, who have occupied the ACC cellar for so long that people around the conference could be forgiven for starting to take it for granted. Then the Eagles punched the Blue Devils in the face and kneed them in the crotch, and smacked the Cavaliers upside the head. Duke hobbled away on the wrong end of 89-84, while Virginia was left clinging by its fingernails to a 59-58 precipice. It could be that the only difference between Duke's fate and Virginia's was the result of geography: Duke got mugged in Chestnut Hill and Virginia was smacked in Charlottesville. The conclusion after watching Boston College play two ACC games is that they are a legitimate ACC team this year, powered by three fantastic guards. All three played the entire game against Virginia.
Make no mistake, this was a great college basketball game. This was a true ACC battle of great players making great plays. In the end, Boston College could not overcome the will of Isaiah Wilkins, who snagged a career high 14 rebounds, blocked 4 shots, was robbed of a double-double by incompetent clock operation apparently by one of the referees on the floor, and had an impact on this game an order of magnitude greater than this paragraph makes it sound.
FEEL THE POWER OF THE #ZAY!— Hoos Place (@HoosPlace) December 30, 2017
Watching Isaiah Wilkins play this year is awe-inspiring. He started dominating games last season, causing me to compare him at one point to Dennis Rodman for his ability to dominate a game while scoring fewer than 6 points. But this year he isn't just dominating games, he is standing astride them like a Colossus. He is The Zay, FEEL HIS POWER.
Meanwhile, Devon Hall had the offensive game of a Crockpot turned off after three hours - perhaps because of his focus on erasing Ky Bowman from the game - and Kyle Guy battled his offense more than played it, but Ty Jerome took the mantle upon his shoulders and crushed all opposition with 31 points on 17 shots. Add his free throws and it was 31 points on 20 shots. It was the anti-Allen Iverson game, ruthless efficiency to go along with an occasional ferocity on defense and in pursuit of loose balls that had me calling him "mini-Zay" in the second half.
Isaiah and Jerome went biblical on Boston College, but the Eagles had their own biblical duo: a Jerome - Jerome Robinson - and a Jordan - baptised Jordan Chatman. Robinson poured in 29 points and Chatman nailed 4-5 threes and 4-4 free throws for 18. Many of the dynamic duo's points came against defense you would need an electron microscope to find any flaws. Robinson, Chatman and their usual partner-in-crime Bowman played all 40 minutes.
This game had everything: great defense, great offense, duelling stars, scintillating plays, blunders, and referee controversy. Each coach had his great moments, with Tony Bennett - who notched his 200th win at UVA - perhaps having his best when he kept his players calm during the referee conference and sent them out with the right mindset for The Do-Over.
The game began like a normal UVA-BC game at the JPJ, as Virginia took a 15-7 lead and appeared to be rolling. But then the bench happened. The Virginia bench was atrocious in this game. Ordinarily productive and with members who have segments of the fan base agitating for them to start, the bench squandered that early lead with clumsy offense and defensive breakdowns. The Eagles were able to come back and take a 19-17 lead by hitting the offensive boards and capitalizing on the disorganized Virginia offense. To show how bad the bench was, lineups with Nigel Johnson on the floor had an offensive efficiency of 0.53, and a defensive efficiency of 1.19, being outscored by 15 points in only 40 possessions! They scored on only 4 of 15 possessions.
As a result of the bench's unreliability, Virginia's starters did not get a whole lot more rest than Boston College's. Only two of the 10 starters played fewer than 30 minutes: BC center Nik Popovic with 28 minutes and Guy with 29. Hall and Jerome each logged 37 minutes.
After Boston College grabbed that 19-17 lead, Bennett went back to his starters with just under 7:30 left in the first half. Immediately, Guy and Jerome fed each other for threes, then Wilkins posted up, spun baseline and found Jerome in the corner for the third triple in a minute and a half. Suddenly the home team was back up by 7 and threatening to break this one open. Some weak post defense by Salt, poor transition offense by Guy and Hall, and then the second fouls of Guy and Wilkins sending them back to the bench allowed the Eagles to stay close, going into the locker room down just 5.
Boston College came out of the locker room ready to execute and swiftly closed to within 1, but they could never get over the hump. Every time they had the ability to take the lead, the Virginia defense - generally The ZAY - shut them down and the Virginia offense - almost exclusively The Jerome - had an answer. Jerome dropped in Virginia's last 8 points, 14 of the last 17, 17 of 22.
The last of Jerome's 6 three-pointers gave Virginia a 4-point lead with just over 3:00 to play. Virginia squandered an opportunity to make it 6 or 7 with another slow, desultory offensive possession reminiscent of late last season, culminating in a forced jumper by Hall with his feet on the three-point line. Being the opposite of the rhythm shot Hall shoots reliably, the shot predictably doinked off the rim, and BC was just one shitty referee call away from making it a one-possession game.
In good preparation for what they will face Wednesday night, the Hoos received that one shitty referee call when Chatman tripped over his own feet under excellent defense by Guy and the referee three feet away decided to call a foul. Even anti-homer Cory Alexander publicly admitted it was a shitty call. Coinkadinky of coinkadinkies, it put the ACC's best free throw shooter on the line and he promptly sliced the 4-point lead in half.
The dramatic finish was all set up. Jerome made it a 4-point game again when he drove into the lane and a foul was called on Boston College. Ty dropped both free throws through the net, and all Virginia had to do was protect the lead for one minute.
Not so easy. First, Jerome Robinson closed out his 29-point game with the kind of shot usually only Duke makes in the final minutes against Virginia in the JPJ: a heavily-contested three. Then, after killing 15 seconds, Jerome slashed into the lane and found Wilkins in the corner. The Zay's shot rimmed out, but mini-Zay ripped the ball out of the air and dribbled it out to mid-court. When Devon Hall was fouled with 13 seconds left, you had to feel pretty good as a Hoo, since Hall was shooting over 90% himself and had hit some clutch free throws earlier in the season.
Not today, though, as Hall completed his miserable offensive performance with a missed front end, leaving his team at the mercy of the referees and the marksmanship of the Boston College Three. Any one of those guys is a threat to just pull up from anywhere or step back, and nail a jumper with fingers up his nose, or take it to the rack and hit the Cirque du Soleil special.
In retrospect, they would have been better off just bombing away from the arc and staying the fork away from THE ZAY:
And, really, just fork you, refs. Nothing about this game pisses me off as much as Zay's steal and dunk NOT being the end of the forking game. Fork the incompetent ref for starting the clock wrong, and fork Jamie Luckie for noticing it in time to blow his forking whistle and cause The Do-Over.
It was a great game and a win that you put in the bank without complaint. Great performances by Wilkins and Jerome. Any ACC win is a good one and especially before mid-January the outcome of any conference game is completely unpredictable. But there just is so much in this one to bother you:
(WARNING: If you find criticism of Tony Bennett to be heretical, offensive or undermining your view of the world, please Do Not Proceed)
There was Kyle Guy being unable to convert on any of his drives into the lane. He got in there easily but then ... it is really hard not to use ED double-entendres to describe what happened. Suffice it to say that he went weak and when you go weak, the rim does you no favors. It was a troubling performance because it simply continued a trend I highlighted a week ago. He simply has to go hard, invite contact and cut out the extra arm movement. Remember how Dipsy-Do Devon had to give way to Diesel Devon? Same thing here. Weak Sauce Guy needs a dose of chili pepper or some oysters or something and go HARD.
There was Devon Hall reverting to the tentative, reluctant to drive, putting up non-rhythm jumpers, missing important free throws guy we saw on the regular in previous seasons.
There was more of that terrible desultory offense from last year, with lazy off-ball cutting, aimless dribbling, purposeless time-wasting mover-blocker garbage and none of the vitality and creativity we have seen at times in the non-conference. It's like they were just killing time until they could throw up a shot before the buzzer and go back to play some more defense. Thankfully, BC is too afraid of foul trouble to really contest and Jerome went Superhero, or it would have been another Miami 2017 abortion. If we continue to fall back on simple mover-blocker throughout the rest of the conference schedule, we're going to lose several games. YOU HAVE TO ATTACK THE BASKET WITH THE DRIBBLE IN THIS LEAGUE IF YOU WANT TO SUCCEED.
It's a shame to see the same constipated offensive sets when there is so much ability, but the coaches are too stubborn to find space for them in which to operate, and matchups for them to exploit. After watching this:
you wonder what they could do if we spread the floor around them to let them work one-on-one with any help forced to come from distance and create passing opportunities. And it seems like when you can put shooters on the floor like Guy and Jerome, supplemented by Hall, Johnson and Hunter, it would be cool to space them around the arc and let your drivers take a stab at the lane with the defense spread out, not have four players running back and forth within three feet of the lane.
Finally, knowing that Boston College plays six guys and can't risk foul trouble, it's frustrating to see the same curls and mid-range jumpers instead of challenging the defense more. Jerome did and look how it went for him. Guy drove, but then rather than challenge the defense, he challenged his own shooting ability. Hunter, to his credit, consistently drove in, and if he could have earned more time, might have had some success. Hall and Johnson were simply non-entities, showing very little of the aggressiveness we have seen from them in other games.
With ACC season here, it is troubling to see the offense look exactly the same as the model that broke down like an old jalopy last season, once again depending almost entirely on the ability to hit jumpers.
The defense was largely great, but this game shows that talented and aggressive offensive players are going to beat great defense fairly regularly, and you have to be able to score to stay on top of them. We have players with scoring ability, and thankfully one of them used his ability and aggressiveness to transcend the mover-blocker and make plays.
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