Back In the Saddle Again
This time it was lambs under the saddle, lambs who thought they were rams. They dug their heels in the tar to no avail, as the Cavaliers' Three Heroes whipped them 12-2 in the last four minutes to seize a 69-61 victory in Chapel Hell, just two days after falling to the Blue Devils from Duke. Kyle Guy and De'Andre Hunter did the most shooting, directed by Ty Jerome who had a double double with 15 points (on 9 shots) and 11 assists. Guy and Hunter each scored 20 points, with six of Guy's coming on a pair of threes that broke the game open in the last two minutes.
The two teams fought for control of the flow for the first few minutes, until Mamadi Diakite subbed in at the under-sixteen and Virginia squeezed off a 10-0 burst until the next TV time out. Back-to-back threes by Guy and Jerome vaulted UVA from 8-9 down to a five-point lead in less than a minute, then jumpers from Jerome and Diakite put the Hoos up 18-11. Virginia carried that 7-point edge into the locker room.
The stage was set for a dramatic second half. The Tar Heels turned up the defensive intensity four minutes in and reversed the field on Virginia with a 17-3 run. Everybody contributed, from Coby White exploiting his size advantage over Kihei Clark in a way he was unable to in the first half, to Garrison Brooks getting inside position and redirecting balls into the basket, to Cameron Johnson making shots. On the other end, the Heels pushed Virginia's offense farther from the basket, and capitalized swiftly on mistakes by the Cavaliers.
The home team had flipped a 40-32 UVA lead into a 6-point advantage with less than ten minutes to play. The surge was powered by Virginia turnovers: 10 of them in the first 28 minutes gave the Heels the fast break points they need to power their offense. The invading Cavaliers made a series of adjustments beginning at the under 12 time out that reversed the tide again.
First, Guy and Hunter came in for Clark and Jack Salt.
Second, they assigned White to Dre with Ty backing him up. The two larger defenders passed Coby off to each other for several possessions, then around the four minute mark, Dre stuck with the North Carolina freshman, who did not score again.
Third, they stopped turning the ball over. Remember what I just said about 10 turnovers in 28 minutes? The final box score says 10 turnovers. Eliminating turnovers allowed the Hoos to score on 6 consecutive offensive possessions in the key stretch when they wiped out Carolina's 55-48 lead and moved out in front for good at 61-59.
The lineup change allowed the Cavaliers to wrest the initiative away from Carolina in that first five minutes, then Jay Huff came onto the floor just inside the 7:00 mark with his team trailing by 4, 55-51. Huff's insertion with Key, Hunter, Guy and Jerome added power to the Cavalier attack. They overpowered UNC 15-6 with Huff on the floor, before bringing in the closer, Diakite, out of the bullpen. Mamadi got the last two outs. [ok, that metaphor didn't really work]
In his post-game press conference, Tony Bennett lauded Huff's impact on the game:
We made our run and I thought his offense would help us, but you know he bothered a shot, grabbed a rebound with his length and he can open the floor at times. Sometimes you just go by feel. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t but I thought he gave us a very good lift. He had a really nice catch and a finish. He didn’t make the free throw. The free throw shooting, obviously, we have to knock those down, but that catch — he has good hands — and that finish were really important.
We had a little action and [De'Andre Hunter] made a late find pass and he got it up, Jay was kind of turned sideways. He has that touch and that length so, I just felt that it was right.
Hunter drove to the basket to tie the game at 59 with 4:00 to play, then came the pivotal moment in the battle when lightning set a Tar Heel cannon on fire.
It was the right call, but it sucked. It made me rail against instant replay all over again, querying the TV, "Did it make this game better?" and not finding a positive answer. Coby White came up with a loose ball knocked away by UVA's intense defense at the end of the shot clock, and in panic as the last digit was flipping to 0 tossed it at the basket from right in front of Roy Williams. Kersploosh! The place erupted.
Then came instant replay. It was the right call, but the Cheatolina fans reasonably hated it. I hated it, too. How dramatic would that have been had the officials not stopped the game, not silenced the crowd? UVA inbounds the ball and brings it up as the waves of emotion cascade onto the floor. What - is UVA going to curl up and whimper in the middle of that? No. Ty Jerome is either going to fire up the Howitzer or find his Guy with a lick of space and one of them is going to drain the soul right out of that crowd.
But it didn't go down that way. After a Narnian age, the officials told the arena what the TV audience already knew: the ball was on White's fingertip when the clock struck Red. Shot clock violation, UVA ball, still tied at 59.
Hunter came down and attacked Brandon Robinson with the dribble again. This time, however, he got himself in trouble - up in the air with no shot. Huff rescued him by slashing to the back of the rim and snatching Dre's desperation pass off the ear of a Carolina defender to lay it in while being fouled. Tie broken, Huff defended his breach by forcing Coby to miss a layup on the other end, seizing the rebound before it dropped out of the clouds, then held off two Heel defenders to free Guy for the first of two consecutive threes to crush the Carolina resistance.
Ty Jerome was the Hoos Place Impact Player of the Game with his 30 Successful Possessions Index on the power of the double-double and team-high 15 Glue Index. The SPI was highest of the season and tied for 4th in the Hoos Place database. Hunter and Diakite were second and third in SPI (21, 18) and Glue (10, 12).
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