Defense, lineup adjustment, key rally, push #6 UVA to comeback win

virginia basketballOhio State was getting everything it wanted, and more, and sixth-ranked UVA seemed to have no answers.

The Buckeyes shot 60 percent from the field in the first half against the nation’s best defensive team, and didn’t seem to be working too hard to get there.

Twenty-two of Ohio State’s 36 points by the break came in the paint, and the Buckeyes had assists on 10 of their 15 made baskets in going to the break with a 12-point lead.

The second half was a different story. Virginia coach Tony Bennett challenged his team at the half, which was part of it.

A schematic adjustment was probably more important.

“We went with four guards in the lineup. At times, I thought that was a nice lift for us. We were able to guard better,” said Bennett, whose Cavs held Ohio State, which shot 60 percent in the first half, to 7-of-19 shooting in the second half, and forced 11 Buckeyes turnovers, the defense keying a 63-61 Virginia win.

The Cavs’ issues in the post, with the loss of the guy expected to be the anchor, Austin Nichols, dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules after playing just one game, were obvious Wednesday night.

Ohio State dominated the paint in the first half, outscoring UVA 22-4 in the lane.

Virginia’s bigs – Isaiah Wilkins, Jack Salt, Mamadi Diakite and Jared Reuter – combined for just 13 points on 3-of-9 shooting in 69 minutes of playing time.

They played a collective 32 minutes in the second half, as Bennett gave more minutes to Marial Shayok at the four down the stretch.

The lineup with Shayok, Wilkins, Devon Hall, London Perrantes and Darius Thompson may be the best defensive lineup that Bennett can put on the floor.

The versatility of Shayok, who plays bigger than his listed 6’5”, and Wilkins, a quick and yet stout 6’7”, is of particular value.

Neither particularly lit up the box score – Shayok had eight points on 4-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes off the bench; Wilkins had four on 1-of-5 shooting, a breakaway dunk in the final seconds, and five rebounds in 31 minutes.

For that matter, Salt didn’t seem to do much just from looking at the stat lines – two points on 1-of-2 shooting and six rebounds in 17 minutes – but for a stretch in the second half, he seemed to get every rebound and loose ball.

Perrantes, for his part, stuffed the box score with a game-high 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field, but for 20 minutes-plus, he was having one of his more forgettable games in a Virginia uniform.

The senior had four points on 1-of-5 shooting and three turnovers in the first half, and had a turnover on the Cavs’ first possession of the second half.

And then, he flipped the switch and was practically automatic, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the second half, hitting three three-pointers in a six-minute stretch that saw Virginia erase an eight-point deficit.

“It was the tale of two halves for him, without a doubt,” Bennett said. “He had a terrific second half, and a not-so-terrific first half, to be polite. I got after him, and he responded.”

Perrantes seemed to sense that he deserved having his coach get after him.

“I knew I wasn’t playing to the best of my ability or even close, and I feel like that was hurting our team,” Perrantes told reporters after the game. “I was on myself about it, and I’m glad he got on me. That’s the most I’ve gotten ripped by him since I’ve been here, and it sparked us all just knowing that I can respond to something like that. That means that everyone can, too. Just being able to go out after that and play the way we did is huge.”

Ohio State punched Virginia in the mouth in the first half, leading by as many as 16 and going into the break still up double digits.

The come-from-behind win in nice, but Bennett doesn’t want to see his team make a habit of having to come from behind.

“We have played some solid basketball, but we have to be ready. We cannot afford a sleepy start,” Bennett said. “It’s funny, we watched tape the other day on when we beat Ohio State there, and we were a little sleepy. I said, ‘Maybe last year’s team, at times, though we never said it, they had a little more firepower and could afford to be sleepy, but we did not want it.’ This team cannot do that. When that happens, you see what happens with the score. All of a sudden we are down 16. The message is, ‘Be ready.’ The defense cannot take a possession off or get loose.”

Story by Chris Graham