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Balanced offensive effort leads Virginia’s romp over Georgia Tech

uva georgia techJust four minutes into Wednesday’s game against Georgia Tech, Virginia guard Ty Jerome was visibly frustrated. The junior, coming off a tough 2-for-12 shooting performance against Louisville, was off to another slow start, having had his first shot blocked and then having missed a layup he normally converts.

More exasperating, though, was that his team was off to a slow start. The visiting Yellow Jackets, who entered Wednesday just 4-11 in ACC play, led Virginia with more than five minutes played.

But the tough times didn’t last long for the Cavaliers, nor did they last for Jerome. Virginia outscored Georgia Tech 34-11 over the final 15 minutes of the first half and, led by Jerome’s game-high 19 points, cruised to an easy 81-51 victory. It’s the most points Virginia has registered in over a month.

“[De’Andre Hunter] did a good job of making shots early, attacking from the high post,” Jerome said. “And then we did a great job of sneaking behind the zone and getting to the corners, some dribble penetration. Our coaches prepared us really well for it and we attacked it well.”

Though Jerome led the way in the scoring column, he was hardly only one who played a key role in the scoring outburst. Hunter (18 points) and Kyle Guy (11) both joined him in double figures.

Just as importantly, though, the supporting cast of Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key, Kihei Clark and Jay Huff combined for 31 points, their highest combined total in ACC play.

“It was balanced,” Bennett said about his team’s ability to attack what can be a challenging Georgia Tech zone. “I liked the balance and the points in the paint.”

Perhaps the most encouraging sign of the night was Clark busting out of his shooting woes. The freshman defensive specialist had missed all 11 of his attempts over the past three games but buried all three of his shots — a pair of three-pointers and a nice finish in the lane — en route to eight points. It was his highest total since he scored 12 against Notre Dame on January 26, also the last time the Cavaliers scored more than the 81 they scored Wednesday. That’s no coincidence.

“I though he played well,” Bennett said of his freshman, who also had six assists and no turnovers. “He was very efficient and effective tonight in the game.”

After back-to-back road wins over top-25 teams, the Cavaliers put to rest any notion that this could have been any sort of trap game. Down 11-7 early, the hosts reeled off 11 straight points and never trailed again. The Cavaliers shot 56 percent from the field, 53 percent from three, committed just eight turnovers and won the rebounding battle 41-21, led by eight by Diakite and six from Key.

“We talk a lot about trying to control turnovers and second-chance points,” Bennett said. “Those are keys for us to be successful.”

The Cavaliers’ dominance meant several integral players got some rest. No one played more than 31 minutes, and eight players played at least a dozen. It also meant they will get some more rest in the future: The Cavaliers clinched their double bye in the ACC tournament with the victory.

“That’s a great accomplishment, and we’re thankful for that,” Jerome said. “You never want to take anything for granted. We worked really hard to do that, so we’re thankful for that, but we have such a long way to go, so much better to get.”

It’s another big offensive performance for the players outside the trio of Jerome, Guy and Hunter, which is a good sign for Bennett’s team, especially after Diakite and Huff combined for 26 points on Saturday.

The Cavaliers have shown they can win when no one outside of the “Big Three” factors in on the scoring sheet. But as was on display Wednesday, they are truly at their best — and truly a nightmare to play — when it’s a team effort on the offensive end. Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner will attest.

“They’re a very, very good team,” Pastner said. “Their team is good enough to win the national championship.”

The Cavaliers — now the ACC leaders — will look to prove Pastner’s words right in the weeks to come. With their balanced effort Wednesday, they certainly looked the part.

Story by Zach Pereles

augusta free press
augusta free press