Cavaliers ruthlessly wreck Tech
Georgia Tech came to Charlottesville as a bad team with a solid defense, statistically speaking. But the Yellow Jackets left town as just a bad team. Period.
The Big Three all scored in double figures, and Virginia hit nine 3s en route to scoring at least 80 points for the first time since Jan. 26 and the seventh time this season in an 81-51 stomping of the Yellow Jackets on Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena.
Georgia Tech kept it interesting until the 14-minute mark of the first half. But after it took an 11-7 lead, the Cavaliers got to work. Braxton Key hit a 3, and then De'Andre Hunter made a dunk plus a foul shot, and the game was over after that as Virginia bolted to a 41-22 halftime lead. Hunter finished with 18 points, 14 in the first half because for some reason, the Jackets decided not to play 'D' on the one NBA draft lottery pick on the floor. The redshirt sophomore added four rebounds and three assists to the box score.
Virginia got to see a zone for the second straight game and carved it up, good preparation for what's coming Monday when UVa travels to Syracuse, though the Orange employ a 2-3 while Tech uses a 1-3-1.
"The high post is such a crucial area against good zones," Tony Bennett said in the postgame news conference. "There has to be movement, getting underneath the zone in the corners. It helps to have a guy like De'Andre who is efficient. ... I thought we were efficient and effective with the right kinds of things."
Ty Jerome led all scorers with 19 points as he and Kyle Guy (11 points, 3 of 6 on 3-pointers) found their grooves a little bit after off-shooting games against Louisville. Jerome hit just 1 of 2 3-pointers, but finished 8 of 13 overall while adding five rebounds and four assists. He had just one turnover for the second straight game, and UVa had only eight as it finished with fewer than 10 for the second straight game, a positive sign after some of the carelessness before the Louisville matchup.
Kihei Clark, who started Wednesday, took some heat in the Louisville game for not being able to make an open 3, and he was basically benched in the Virginia Tech game for committing a really bone-headed turnover at the end of the first half. Against the Cardinals, though he didn't score, he was more careful with the ball and dished out four assists and recorded five rebounds. But his shot returned vs. Georgia Tech as he sunk both of his 3s on the way to eight points, six assists (no turnovers for second consecutive game), and three boards. It was good to see him back shooting well, and I have to say, I was surprised to learn he is at 33.3 percent on 3-pointers on the season. That means his percentage was even higher before missing all 11 of his attempts in three consecutive games. In other words, fans were probably up in arms a little too quickly for a guy who was actually shooting pretty doggone well from beyond the arc for much of the season. Hopefully what we saw Wednesday is more of the Clark we will see for the remainder of the season.
"Kihei played well," Bennett said. "Six assists, zero turnovers, knocked down a couple 3s. He was very efficient and effective tonight. ... I thought he guarded as usual and was active on the ball. I thought Kihei was a good matchup for [Georgia Tech leading scorer Jose] Alvarado."
Bennett also referenced former Wahoo London Perrantes being a great mentor to Jerome, who now does the same for Clark.
"Kihei is smart," UVa's 10th-year coach said. "He picks [Ty's] brain. I hope he learns how to manage the game. ... I like the efficiency that I saw tonight."
Alvarado finished with 12 points as just two Jackets scored in double figures. Georgia Tech shot 37.5 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from beyond the arc. Out of 27 games this season, Virginia has held 21 opponents to 40 percent or worse field goal shooting.
Jack Salt didn't start for the first time against the Nov. 22 Dayton contest and played just 12 minutes as Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff continued to emerge on both ends of the court. Diakite started and had seven points, eight rebounds, and three blocks. Huff tallied eight points, four rebounds, and a block. Key had another solid outing as well with eight points, six boards, and two steals. He went 2 for 3 from downtown, too, his second game in the past three in which he made at least two long-range shots. For the curious, Key sits at 30.6 percent on 3-pointers.
"[Mamadi Diakite] is so quick off the floor," Bennett said. "He's got a gift. ... It seems like his timing is improving as the year goes on. ... With his length and his bounce, that helps us. ... He's coming into his own in that."
Overall, it was just a great return to form for the 'Hoos. The green team even got in for a few minutes, and Marco Anthony had a nice dribble-drive past his defender and went up for a slam. It was Virginia's first 20-point victory since the Jan. 26 contest at Notre Dame and first 30-point win since facing Marshall on New Year's Eve at home. Granted, the schedule had been mostly unforgiving lately. But the Cavaliers were struggling during stretches of games ever since facing N.C. State in Raleigh. But when finally presented with an easy opponent, Virginia crushed it, mercilessly, locking down a top-four ACC regular-season finish and thus, a double-bye in the conference tournament. I think it was just what the team needed to regain some swagger and get a breather at the same time.
One of the benefits of the blowout was some much-needed rest for the starters. Only Guy (31) played more than 30 minutes, so that was great to see. He played all 40 minutes vs. Notre Dame and at Louisville. Hopefully, the Pitt game Saturday offers a reprieve as well. The Panthers are 12-16 and last in the conference at 2-13. After somehow beating Louisville and Florida State, they've now lost 11 straight.
"I thought the group at the end did a nice job," Bennett said. "I was glad to get Kody Stattmann in there, see Marco Anthony get a nice dunk [and get in] Francesco Badocchi. To have the game in a spot where you could balance the minutes and get different looks at guys and lower that minute count, that's always a positive. Sometimes in this league, you don't have that opportunity, but we played well enough to be able to get everybody an opportunity, which I think is important."
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