Three For 100 on 300
It was Coach Tony Bennett's 300th career victory, and the highest point output one of his teams has ever scored. It was Kyle Guy's career high in points and rebounds. And the big story was erstwhile manager Grant Kersey hitting a three at the buzzer. Virginia had been stuck on 97 for almost two minutes, as Marshall's regular rotation players pressed Virginia's walk-ons, forcing turnovers and missed shots, and cutting Virginia's lead from 41 to 33. It looked like 100 was not going to happen, but then Kersey fed Green Team mate Austin Katstra for an open three from the left corner with 5 seconds left. Katstra missed, but Kersey out-fought Marshall for the rebound on the right block with 2 seconds left, then dribbled out to the arc and let it fly as the clock expired. It splashed through and the JPJ ignited. Kersey's teammates flew off the bench and mobbed him in front of the press table.
While Kersey was stealing the limelight and Virginia was establishing milestones in points scored in a game, wins in a coaching career and an undefeated non-conference season, Guy had one of his best games as a collegian. His three-pointer with 6:26 in the game gave him 30 points on 7-9 from the arc - the 7 threes also being a career high. He grabbed a career high 8 rebounds, 7 of them on the defensive boards. He did it all in just 26 minutes.
The other big story hidden in all of the above is that the Cavaliers played an excellent game and looked the part of a top five team ready for a top ten opponent to come to its gym in five days. Marshall was able to match the Hoos point for point for the first two-and-a-half minutes of the game, but when Mamadi Diakite hit his first three-point attempt in nine games to make it 8-5 Virginia, the Hoos were off and running. They ripped off 12 straight over three minutes for a 17-5 lead less than six minutes into the game, then ground the Herd into salisbury steak over the rest of the half with all the remorse of a Wall Street executive. They did it with excellent offensive execution and grinding defense on Marshall's stars, Jon Elmore and C.J.Burks. De'Andre Hunter drew the initial assignment on Elmore and made life difficult for him. "De'Andre was locked in, stayed in front of him and tried to let his length bother him," Bennett explained after the game. Elmore had a miserable first half, going 0-6 from the floor and committing 4 turnovers. Nobody was able to step up for him, as Burks went 2-5 and chipped in 2 turnovers of his own.
While frustrating Marshall's bell cows, Virginia was on fire. Aggressively getting out in transition and driving the ball, they cracked Marshall's defense open. Guy took advantage of Marshall's poor defense of off-ball screens to go 3-5 from behind the arc on his way to 13 first-half points, including 5 in the initial 12-0 run, and 8 in a 15-0 run late in the half that blew the game wide open after Marshall had scored four straight on a pair of free throws and a dunk to close to within 11. After the dunk, Ty Jerome stepped in front of an outlet pass and fed Guy for a three, then a minute later, Braxton Key pushed upcourt after a defensive rebound and fed Kyle for another transition three. At the end of the run, Virginia led 42-16, and this one would never be close again.
While Guy provided first half fireworks, Hunter dealt body blows. He added 11 first half points on 3-4 from the floor and 5-6 from the free throw line, as he repeatedly got inside the Herd and created chaos. Twice he was able to get inside position on smaller defenders and his teammates found him with high-low passes for easy buckets. While holding Elmore down, Hunter also grabbed two defensive rebounds and blocked a shot.
Jerome, Key and Diakite added to the efficient shooting with 3-4, 2-2 and 2-3 performances. Jerome had 10 points, Diakite 5 and Key 4.
Jay Huff had two stints in the first half, coming in at 12:02 with Virginia up 20-7, then again at 2:24 with the Hoos ahead 45-19. While in his first run he missed both his three point attempts and a putback dunk, Huff was a force defensively and on the boards, and made an alert assist on Kihei Clark's three pointer. It earned him another chance, and he came through with a rim rocker on a feed from Key.
The halftime score was a nice round 50-25.
At the start of the second half, Guy and the Hoos picked right up where they had left off with a 10-0 run in the first three minutes. Kyle dropped in a three off a feed from Jerome, Hunter bothered Elmore into missing a stepback jumper, then Jack Salt rebounded a Jerome miss and fed Diakite for a short jump hook. Next time down, Guy rebounded another Jerome miss and was fouled on the follow by Elmore. He hit the free throws, then capped the run with a three off a steal by Jerome and feed from Hunter. Virginia was up 60-25 and this one was history.
Marshall was beaten but they did not surrender. When Kihei subbed in for Jerome after the last of Ty's 5 turnovers, Marshall attacked him. Elmore repeatedly posted him up, and when Virginia had the ball, the Herd went after Kihei, pressuring and trapping him. It was the first time an opponent appeared to have game-planned for Kihei and he really struggled. He missed all three of his shots, the front end of a 1-and-1, and lost 4 turnovers. As befits the Mong00se, however, he never gave in, and he closed his day with a pair of free throws.
Despite their attack on Virginia's smallest player and relentless fullcourt pressure against the Hoos' non-scholarship players, Marshall never could get their deficit back to 30. It ballooned to 43 at 3:19 when Huff made 4-4 free throws and put back a Clark missed layup, and Kody Stattmann flew off a screen to nail a corner three for a 9-0 run. Huff blocked two shots in the run, Clark had a steal, and Key contributed to the defensive effort with a pair of rebounds.
That set the stage for Kersey's heroics.
It was a great way to end the non-conference part of the season - "phase one" as Coach Bennett referred to it. Marshall was out-classed, but was an opponent that presented some challenges and could cause serious trouble if you were not right. Virginia was right. From early on, they made it clear that there would be no upset, no mid-major miracle. The Hoos were well prepared and locked in. The offense was diverse and aggressive, attacking Marshall in a variety of ways. The players recognized opportunities and exploited them. "Defensively, [Marshall] force you to make some plays off the bounce. They channel you to the hoop and overload it," Bennett explained. And Virginia did. Although they had several shots blocked, the Hoos continually drove the ball into the paint. It paid off to the tune of 34 points in the paint, 19 on second chances as they rebounded almost 50% of their misses. Huff led the way with 5 offensive rebounds.
The dribble drive left Marshall's poor "Off Screen" defense exposed and Guy feasted. He topped his first half performance with 17 points in the second half - including a perfect 4-4 from three.
Mamadi's early three point shot was extremely encouraging. Huff taking two threes with confidence was also encouraging. Although he missed them, they forced Marshall to stay out on him. The three 3-point attempts by Virginia bigs were a good sign. The use of the bounce was a good sign. The varied sets were a good sign. Bennett giving Huff a second first-half chance was another good sign.
The game also featured the first basket of Francesco Badocchi's collegiate career.
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