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Virginia grows, despite defeat at WVU

uva virginia basketballKansas, which wins the Big 12 every year, can’t win in Morgantown, so you knew Virginia had a tall order Tuesday night.

No surprise, then, that West Virginia posted the win.

There is no such thing, really, in the end, as a moral victory, but that said, come on, this was a moral victory, hanging around with WVU in Morgantown into the final minute.

Virginia had the ball down two inside of a minute and a half to go, with Kyle Guy absolutely on fire, scoring 18 in the second half after being held scoreless in the first half, looking like he was struggling with the physicality of the WVU Press Virginia defensive pressure.

Two Ty Jerome turnovers later, and West Virginia was shooting free throws to close it out, and that’s fine.

You knew it was going to happen.

A Virginia win in this environment, and a Cavaliers squad that wasn’t even considered Top 25-worthy in the preseason is suddenly a Final Four favorite even to the many naysayers who like to say things like, UVA can’t score enough to win.

It was a one-possession game in the final 90 seconds, and last time any of us checked, WVU had been averaging 89 points a game coming in.

Any questions?

Well, yes.

Jerome looked out of his element. His line score somehow only had him committing four turnovers, including the two in the final moments, but the sophomore point guard struggled mightily against Press Virginia, to the point that coach Tony Bennett had to coach around Jerome to even get the ball up the court, using Nigel Johnson for 23 minutes, along with having Guy and Devon Hall, his leading scorers, just to get the ball past midcourt.

For the night, Virginia had 14 turnovers, and WVU had a slight 17-12 edge in points off turnovers. Not bad, ultimately, when you just played 40 minutes in Morgantown, but still something to work on.

Bennett will also continue to search for solutions in the post. Mamadi Diakite continued his recent surge, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench, but the other two bigs to get minutes for Bennett Tuesday night – Jack Salt and Isaiah Wilkins – were barely there.

Wilkins had two points and five rebounds in 29 minutes, and Salt didn’t score, didn’t shoot the ball, and had two rebounds in just 14 minutes, and didn’t get back into the game after subbing out at the under-16 media timeout in the second half.

Even considering those numbers, Virginia was able to outscore West Virginia in the paint by a modest 14-8 margin, and basically held its own on the boards, with WVU posting a slight 32-27 edge in the final accounting.

Still, you’re going to need more from your post guys, particularly Wilkins.

You have to like the way Guy bounced back after a woeful first half, that saw him go scoreless, miss all six of his shot attempts, five from three-point range, and commit two turnovers. Guy hit on 6-of-9 from three-point range in the second half, and singlehandedly got Virginia back into the game after WVU opened up an early seven-point lead coming out of the break.

And you have to like what you saw from Devon Hall, who had a solid 19 points, shooting 7-of-12 from the floor, and dishing out a team-best six assists with just one turnover in 36 minutes, with increased ball-handling duties resulting from Jerome’s difficulties going up against the WVU pressure already noted.

All in all, this was a test, and, yes, Virginia lost the game, but you knew going in that it was likely that the good guys weren’t going to leave Morgantown with the W.

I like what we saw from a young team in what will likely be it toughest road game this season, and, yes, I’m saying that knowing full well that the ‘Hoos travel to Duke in January.

This road environment is infinitely tougher than Cameron. No question about that.

Story by Chris Graham

  • theoneandonlyridor

    Than Cameron? Really?

    • Yes. Really. I’ve been to and covered games there. Not Duke-UNC, which I’d bet is a different environment. The games I’ve been to/covered had empty seats. So, yeah. Really.

      • theoneandonlyridor

        I once went to CIS and did not like it – the place became like steam room when it is packed. And I think it sucked. But WVU Coliseum is bit darker like Cassell but reminded me of University Hall.

        • I was a little disappointed on my visits to Cameron. It’s just a really big high school gym to me. No charm, and not as intimidating as ESPN made it out to be.

  • An underrated tough road game is Virginia Tech. The arena is a dump, but the seats are right above the floor, and the student section is directly behind the basket on the end of the court with the visitor’s bench.

    The design of the arena collects sound and sends it back down to the floor. It’s not huge, but it is the loudest natural noise environment I’ve been in.

  • Rob Wagner

    Question for you Chris. What is up with Jerome? He really melted down at the end of a game that was hanging in the balance. Aside from whining every foul that’s ever called on him, is he just that slow and unathletic?

    • I’m afraid that athleticism may be an issue with him. He really couldn’t be used to bring the ball up the court against WVU, and I remember the same being the case against VCU, when Guy and Johnson were used a lot to get the ball past halfcourt against the press.

      Remember that he had double hip surgery in high school, and I think it’s safe to assume that this is a logical reason he is somewhat limited athletically.

      I never saw him play in high school, so I have no frame of reference for what he was like before the surgery. But it’s hard not to notice that he basically shoots a ’50s-style set shot from the perimeter, and just can’t get separation against press defense when he’s handling the ball.

      I thought last year that it wouldn’t be fair to judge him in terms of athletic ability since he was just coming off that surgery, but we’re in year two now, and whatever he did in the spring, summer and fall to improve physically hasn’t resulted in much of a difference.

      I didn’t live-blog Tuesday’s game at WVU, but if I had, you would’ve seen me say about a minute in that Jerome wouldn’t be getting many minutes, because he was a liability against the WVU pressure. I think he ended up with 21 minutes, and though he only had four turnovers, it seemed to be me that he got blown up by defenders on his handle several additional times.

      • Rob Wagner

        Yeah he looked very outmanned. I’ll be interested to see what Bennett does with him. He really looks like a situational point guard who’s strongest attribute is he’s 6’6”