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Statement Made

Game Highlights

The #4 Virginia Cavaliers built a first-half lead against #9 Florida State, then withstood a furious late rally by the Seminoles to hang on for the 65-52 win.  Florida State held Virginia without a field goal for over seven minutes in the second half, and ripped off a 16-0 run as they battled to the final horn.

Oh, at the end of that 7:20 FG-less stretch, the Cavaliers had a 55-32 lead.  The 16-0 Florida State run came after all of Virginia's starters had gone to the bench to watch the last three minutes of the game with the other 14,600+ Wahoos in the arena.  The last 9 points in the run came in the last minute of the game, as Florida State pressed Virginia's walk-ons and manager to the bitter end.

Leonard Hamilton's team was so unable to score against Tony Bennett's rotation players that when Virginia finally made the field goal at 8:42 in the second half, they still led by 23.   Florida State scored more points in the last three minutes (18) of the second half than they did in the first seventeen (11).

It is hard to overstate the degree to which the last three minutes masked how dominant Virginia was in this game.  The lead climbed from 19 points at halftime to 29, and was still on its way up when all the starters went out of the game.  Virginia's defense was so remorseless that the 'Noles quit even trying to work offense and just launched random shots.  They continued to grind on defense, pressuring the ball and harassing the cutters, but all that did was keep Virginia from dropping a hundy on them.

While the defense was crushing 'Nole souls, the offense was humming along at a 2.1 points-per-minute rate for the first 24 minutes, despite Ty Jerome and De'Andre Hunter going 4-19 from the floor.  Neither of them had his confidence shooting today, but both contributed on the floor.  Jerome with 6 assists to 1 turnover, and Hunter tied Braxton Key for leading rebounder with 6.  Jerome added 4 boards to the team effort that outrebounded the bigger 'Noles 36-32, limiting them to just 3 second chance points on 8 offensive rebounds (22.9%).  Florida State came in averaging almost 40% OReb% on the season, which was primarily responsible for their offense being #25 in the Kenpom rankings - that and points off turnovers.  As for turnovers, Virginia's rotation players (including eighth man Jay Huff) committed five of them - for 0 fast break points.  Without sustenance from offensive rebounds and turnovers, Florida State's offense starved, and laid down in the gutter and died.

Thirty-four points in 37 minutes.  Kyle Guy and Braxton Key themselves had outscored Florida State when they checked out of the game for the last time.  Guy went off in the first half, nailing all 4 treys, 6-7 from the floor overall and 2-2 from the line for an 18-point eruption.  For the game he was 5-6 from three, for the second consecutive "that dude is going off" shooting game within a week of some writer chiding him for never seeming to have those like a great shooter should.  He finished with 21 points and 3 assists.  Braxton Key is Kyle's good friend from way back in AAU and he was a great running mate today, with 12 points in the first half and 20 on the game.  Florida State would not match Guy and Key's 33 first half points until 4:40 remained in the game.

Key has had issues hitting shots from near and far, but he was brutally efficient today, 5-6 from two, 2-5 from three and 4-4 from the line. ESPN2 announcer Jimmy Dykes lauded Braxton's pre-game work ethic, saying that Braxton was alone in the gym getting up shots when Dykes came in the day before the game, and alone imn the gym getting up shots when Dykes left, then alone in the gym getting up shots when Dykes showed up on game day.  "Key deserves to have those shots go down!" Dykes exclaimed more than once.  Guy and Key did not limit themselves to scoring: Key snared 6 rebounds and Guy 5, all defensive, as part of the aforementioned team effort to keep Florida State away from the offensive boards.

After a brief tussle for control of the rope in the game's first four minutes, the Hoos snatched it from FSU's grasp and just never let them get a grip.  Florida State was up 8-4 on 3s by 6-5 sophomore guard M.J. Walker and the 6-8, 230 redshirt senior Phil Cofer and a monstrous dunk by 7-4 senior center Christ Koumadje, who despite relatively impressive agility and dexterity and a decent skill set will never be confused for Ralph Sampson in ESPN archives, when Kyle Guy straight took this game over. After Jerome ended up with Hunter's missed three, Guy turned that into a layup.  A steal, a defensive rebound, another layup, a three and four and a half minutes later, and he had given Virginia the lead for good, 13-9.  After a pair of free throws by 6-6 freshman reserve guard from Switzerland Anthony Polite, Guy dropped another three and Virginia was up 5.  Kyle had scored 10 of the first 16 points for the Hoos.

In the last 9 minutes of the half Virginia simply ground Florida State down, possession by possession.  The lead grew and shrank by a point or two each time down, like a stock ticker in a boom time.  Virginia owned the last five minutes of the half 15-2 and ran into the locker room up 19 at 42-23.  The team that scores 60 was already halfway to the other team's average game, and the team that scores 80 was only a third of the way to the other team's average game.

But in those games the leads had been 7 (UVA in 2017) and 10 (FSU in 2018), not 19, and the trailing team still had fight.  Each changed the game in the first few minutes of the second half.  This Florida State team was done.  Four minutes into the second half, the Hoos had punched the lead up to 23, and the rest was history.  Guy kickstarted the engine with his last three of the day, then the rest of the offense picked up the beat, with Diakite, Jerome and Hunter pitching in the other six points.

Lost In the Game

Shooters learn quickly they are going to have to do a lot more than just hit shots to play much for Tony Bennett.  If they turn the ball over unnecessarily or are consistently causing the defense to give up points, they won't play, no matter how many shots they could have nailed.  Those who get it early can earn the minutes they need to begin building a portfolio. 

Learning that they can help the team win in other ways pays off when players become veterans, because it gives them confidence, and that helps the shots go down.  Guy got that lesson.  "We don't ever feel out of rhythm," he said when asked about it after Marshall.  "Maybe our shots are not going down, but we know there's other ways we can impact the game.  Especially for me, I feel like if my shots aren't falling, I know that his shots are gonna fall," Guy expanded, pointing at Jerome sitting next to him at the interview table.  "So I find him and vice versa."  Today it was vice versa, as it was Guy's shots falling and Jerome finding those other ways to impact the game.

Guy played 18 minutes per game and averaged 7.5 points his freshman year, but he learned how to defend and read the screens in the blocker-mover.  Yesterday, he was the best player on the court in the first half.  He served a bit of notice on the league: maybe he was Virginia's returning All-American for a reason.

In three halves, Guy layered hot shooting on top of all the other ways he impacts the game.  He came out on fire against both teams because their was, as Dykes put it several times, "violence in his cuts" and "explosion in his shot."  I fully enjoy looking like a fool if it means Kyle Guy putting strokes on a masterpiece.  He shattered the Virginia record for consecutive three-pointers made with 11.  He was 11-13 from the arc in those three halves, 5-5 from the line, for 48 points, 10 rebounds, an assist, a steal and two turnovers in 44 of 60 minutes.  His 3FG% is up over 48%, and another day like yesterday would put him over 50%.

Jerome wasn't assertive in his shots but he was all over the play-by-play.  Not being the one who was feeling his shot today, Ty was still making an impact.  "It's more about trying to get lost in the game," he had said after Marshall, in followup on Guy's remarks.  "It's about finding ways to impact the game and when you have an open shot you have to always be confident and ready to shoot it."  I liked Jerome's framing of it, getting "lost in the game."  That's the sense you get from both of them.  Jerome got lost in the game to the tune of 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2-2 from the line.

Dress Rehearsals

While Virginia's non-conference schedule was not a resume stuffer but the last two games did give Virginia some practice reps for things they would use against Florida State.  William & Mary, Marshall and FSU all want to spread the floor and catch you unready, but they do it with different elements.  William & Mary's Nathan Knight is a 6-10 post man with a good dribble drive game, and he exposed the holes in Virginia's big-man defense.  Marshall spreads the floor and tries to create openings by attacking the basket on the drive, either rubbing off ball screens or plunging downhill then kicking it out to a shooter or putting it on the rim.  Defensively, Marshall wants to turn you over and protects the rim by blocking shots, but does not do much else on defense.  Stylistically, they contrasted nicely with Virginia while letting the Hoos work on some patterns for the next game.  Florida State had a similar benefit from playing Winthrop on Tuesday: they play a version of the packline.

The Cavaliers were ready.  That is as ready for an opponent as I have seen Virginia in years.  This was Harris-Mitchell as seniors, Brogdon-Gill as seniors, locked into an opponent.  They knew exactly what they wanted to do to Florida State and how they were going to do it.  And they went out and did it.  Just like they did against Marshall.

So Much To Like

As in any dominant performance, there were so many things to like in this one:

 

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