Emergence of De’Andre Hunter gives Virginia another dimension

de'andre hunterThe soft spot in the Syracuse 2-3 zone is the foul line. Virginia guard De’Andre Hunter was Tony Bennett’s secret weapon in attacking that soft spot in Tuesday’s 68-61 win.

Hunter scored 15 points in a season-high 27 minutes off the bench, alternating time at the three and four.

He did most of his damage at the four on the offensive end in the first half, when he scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, on short jumpers, mid-range jumpers and dribble drives, attacking the Orange with impunity from the free-throw line into the paint.

Hunter only had two points in the second half, but that was largely because Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim switched up his defense to put more attention on Hunter, pinching his wing defenders toward him, in the process freeing up space for perimeter shooters Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Devon Hall, who shot a combined 6-for-15 from three-point range in the second half, taking advantage of the extra daylight.

“I thought we needed that play making ability in the high post, and De’Andre did a really good job,” said Bennett, whose teams have had success on the offensive end against Syracuse since the school’s entrée into the ACC.

Virginia is 4-2 against the Orange since Syracuse joined the league in 2013, attacking the 2-3 as well as anybody by focusing on getting the ball inside the zone in the high post, first using Anthony Gill as the point power forward.

Isaiah Wilkins, a 6’7” fourman with a consistent mid-range jumper, and plus abilities as a passer, started the game Tuesday in the high post, but the offense didn’t get untracked until Hunter entered the game with 11:57 to go in the first half.

Hunter scored Virginia’s next eight points to keep the Cavs close, then closed out the first half by scoring UVA’s final five points to send the team into the break up three.

Boeheim had his perimeter defenders collapse on Hunter in the second half, limiting him to 1-of-4 shooting, but in so doing created space for Virginia’s guards.

He didn’t get credit for any assists in the final box score, but you could credit him with at least a couple of hockey assists with good ball movement spinning the ball in the direction it needed to go to get teammates open looks.

Hunter, as Boeheim could attest, is no longer a secret to opposing coaches. His output against Syracuse was his third straight double-digit scoring game in ACC play, a stretch that has seen him average 13.0 points a game on 53.6 percent shooting.

He’s been a good third option for the ‘Hoos in the stretch – Kyle Guy has averaged 14.0 points per game over the last three, and Devon Hall has averaged 13.7.

Throw in Ty Jerome, who has averaged 10.0 points per game since his 31-point outburst against Boston College two weeks ago, and Bennett suddenly has four guys who can be go-to scorers on an in-game basis.

Hunter’s aggressiveness gives Virginia another dimension offensively.

“(The coaches) love when I’m aggressive. They don’t like it when I’m passive. I just try to play as aggressive as possible,” Hunter said.

Story by Chris Graham