Postgame: UVA coach Tony Bennett, players on NCAA Tournament win
UVA coach Tony Bennett and players Darius Thompson, London Perrantes and Marial Shayok talk with reporters after the Cavs’ 76-71 win over UNC-Wilmington in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Bennett, if we could ask you to make an opening statement. Then we’ll open it up to questions.
TONY BENNETT: First, I would just like to say the Virginia family lost a great player and a member of our program, Chris Williams, who passed away. Called him Big Smooth. I’d never met him, but I just want to send out our heartfelt prayers and thoughts to his family. Thankful again for what he did for the program when he was here. I just wanted to honor him and his name and his legacy at this time.
And then as far as the game, it was a scrambled game. I teased our guys, I’m glad we worked on our five-guard lineup all week in practice. We knew we were going to have to play four guards, and we did talk about it as a staff, and Coach Soderberg led the scout our last practice and said, “Do you want to get a few reps with five guards?” I was like, “No, I don’t think so.”
But we had to. And then these guys came up and made big plays. Good defense by Devon, Marial, of course London — I’m sorry. Darius. My mind is rushing. Darius made some big plays slashing.
See, that’s a good senior point guard. He’s giving assists to his coach.
And they’re a hard time to play against. Again, you’ll have a lot of questions, but that’s March Madness. That’s the way it is. The way we were down and fought back, we kept steady.
Q. Tony, when London went out there with four or five minutes left, what did you think? Did you think he might have been hurt worse than he was? What did you tell him when he went back in?
TONY BENNETT: He fakes it a lot. I knew he’d be fine. No, I’m just kidding. I didn’t know. He’s one of our toughest guys. I was worried. I didn’t know if it was his shoulder, his elbow, whatever. Sometimes you get a stinger, and I don’t know how much he wants to talk about it. I’m still not sure.
But, yeah, I was concerned for him first. Like I was concerned for Isaiah, and I said, all right, we’ve got to get this thing going without him. And when Ethan (Saliba) or someone said, “London is okay,” it was obviously significant for the victory.
Q. London, if you could start by revealing whatever you will about what happened, how much pain you were in, and then shortly after coming back in, I mean, you went hard to the basket for three really big baskets. How physically tough was that for you to do?
LONDON PERRANTES: It was, I guess, only thing I could call it was a stinger. Kind of just I couldn’t feel my arm for that period of time. So I was trying to get the feeling back into my arm. It wasn’t really working. So I had to come out. And then just like a minute or so later, I started to get more feeling in it, and then I was fine.
Obviously, I wish it didn’t happen, but I didn’t want to come in and just be thinking about my arm. I just wanted to get the win, and I had to do whatever I could.
Q. Marial, can you just talk about your game today. You had a good first half, and then continued into the second.
MARIAL SHAYOK: I just wanted to provide energy off the slow start. Personally, I just didn’t want to go out like that, and I knew my teammates didn’t either. So I just wanted to come out and provide what I could on both ends and just bring a spark.
Q. Tony, you’ve talked about playing the ACC this year, how it kind of makes you adjust to all different kinds of styles. Did that even matter today because of the things you had to do?
TONY BENNETT: There’s not a team in the ACC that’s like that. I mean, I think Virginia Tech is really hard to guard and Notre Dame, how they spread you out with their guys. There’s certain things, but it’s just — they’re quick. They’re small. They have unconventional shots.
Kevin does a great job. He’s built a really good program in his three years there. But that was really unique to what we have seen all year in terms of that.
Again, it was just sort of adjusting. We were switching every ball screen, and Jack came in in the second half, and I said, no, we need another adjustment. I thought Jack did a good job defensively. These guys knew they had to fight defensively to handle all of their spread-ball screens.
Q. Question for Coach: Marial seemed to give you guys a bit of a spark in the first half there to help you guys get going. Can you talk a little bit about how he got you guys going.
TONY BENNETT: It was a game we were down, I think 11-23, and we were having trouble, and we just said, we’ve just got to space and play. Come up with the ball screen, slip the ball screen, space and play, attack. Move it if we have something in transition. We had to get back into the game, try to take good shots, but you needed to be aggressive.
They did a good job defensively for a while, but we did it. And London, he always has such a good mind, came up with a real good suggestion in the halftime, and we got a quick couple good shots off of that, but space and play was it.
Marial, we went five guards, and that guy had a hard time guarding him. He’s a crafty scorer. He can create. If you’ve watched him over the years, he can manufacture his own shot, and we needed it all.
Q. Tony and London, down 15 there halfway through the first half. Any panic set in? What was the mindset with you guys? It looked like they couldn’t miss and you guys couldn’t hit.
LONDON PERRANTES: I think I said it in the last press conference, they’re going to have to make tough shots for 40 minutes, and basketball’s a game of runs, obviously. They came out hot. They had their run. We had ours. And then it was just back and forth in the second half.
I think we had the last run. Obviously, we knew at the beginning that they were going to make some tough shots. The point guard made some big shots with a hand in his face. Everybody seemed to have made shots. So I kind of just knew that, hopefully, they were going to start missing and we were going to start making them, and it happened.
Q. Darius and then, Coach, you can answer this too, it was clear for all three of you guards how important it was to attack the rim, and all three of you guys did that consistently through the game. Can you just talk about how important that was to the win today.
DARIUS THOMPSON: It was big. We have a team full of players who can attack and get to the rim and make plays. We really couldn’t run our offense that we usually run. So we just spread it out and just decided to attack.
TONY BENNETT: Is that enough?
Q. No, you can do it, too.
TONY BENNETT: They did a good job, as they said. We were down, and we just knew we’ve got to get aggressive, and they all three did. Devon did. We had to switch because they were starting to get easy buckets, the way we were playing the ball screen. So we said, all right, let’s go five guards. They had to hit tougher shots for the most part, but that was to our advantage when we have these guys.
We don’t have a five-guard offense we work on because we haven’t done it, but like I said, you’re going to have to touch the paint, either kick it or make plays, and even in some transition press-break stuff, I thought we had to get some points on the board.
Q. Coach, when you look at London and his 19 points there in the second half, how big was that for your team to kind of just hold that lead as you guys are trying to put it away?
TONY BENNETT: London knows how I feel about him, how much I trust his game, and all we’ve been through. It’s a big-time performance on a big stage, something I’ve grown fond of watching him do over the years.
It’s just one game. We get to the next one, but I liked what I saw, and I was proud of him.
Q. Marial, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe today 23 points is a career high for you. Anything specific that kind of got you going like you did today? Was it the stage? Was it just one of those days?
MARIAL SHAYOK: Just playing for my guys right here and the coaching staff and just my teammates. We’ve come so close over the years, and the chemistry is just through the roof now. So just trying to play through these guys and just be in the moment and play as free as possible.
Q. Tony, kind of a behind-the-scenes thing. How do you handle the Tournament? Do you have two assistants scouting prospective opponents? Will you stay and watch this game personally? How do you work this part?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, it just depends. We always — we have two, someone takes Florida, and someone takes ETSU, and they’re working on them. We’ll watch. I’ll stay for some of it or all of it, and you get to work.
It’s pretty standard operation for how it goes. You get these guys back and rested and have a good prep day tomorrow, and then come ready to play because you know, if you’re not successful, it’s your last game, and you don’t want to leave a stone unturned.
But we’ve been through some Saturday/Monday games in the ACC. So we understand what that middle day is about. We’ll try to have a good plan and get after it.
Yep, we’ve got both teams scouted, and now this will be an important scout today.
THE MODERATOR: We have time for two more questions.
Q. How happy were you with the team getting to the free-throw line 21 times in the second half?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, we had to, and like these guys said, we had to attack, and we had to draw fouls. We got them in the bonus with about — we were in the bonus, I’m sorry, with 11, 12 minutes. So that was important, and we needed to because we were spreading them out, attack, and obviously we wanted to capitalize on a few of them, but we made just enough, and we saved some for the next game. So we’ll take it.
Q. Coach, Isaiah, how’s his status?
TONY BENNETT: Yeah, he gave us —
MARIAL SHAYOK: Everything he had.
TONY BENNETT: He’s a warrior. I told you what our plan was before. He had five minutes. Sometimes you get in there and you can’t get a stop. He pushed so hard, and he’s not — he hasn’t filled his tank up enough from this virus and this sickness. We’ll take it a day at a time.
But then during the game — I think it was when we tied — he jumped up and got excited. I don’t know if it was a sinking spell or what, but it was not right. I feel for him. I put my arm around him, and I said, “I’ll never forget your courage and your heart to try,” because we needed him when he was sick to get us into this tournament. He did it at NC State, North Carolina, Pitt.
Q. He’ll be a game-time decision?
TONY BENNETT: We’ll just see how he is today. I’m not counting on him because of where he’s at, but that will be up to the doctors.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good luck the rest of the way.