Inside the Numbers: Jack Salt at the rim keys Virginia turnaround

bear creek 2019 ACC TournamentKyle Guy had 14 points for Virginia at halftime of Thursday’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal matchup with NC State. None of his teammates had more than three.

Guy shot 5-of-7 from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, but UVA still trailed 29-27, largely because the Wolfpack was shutting down the ‘Hoos in the paint.

Virginia was 5-of-10 shooting in the painted area, and only 2-of-3 on shots at the rim.

Credit to NC State for shutting down driving lanes, closing gaps, and making it hard for UVA to touch the paint, as coach Tony Bennett emphasizes to his team.

Also a symptom of what State was doing defensively was the turnover line for UVA: at six, in 30 first-half possessions.

The prescription for turning that around: you guessed it, Jack Salt.

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Salt hadn’t scored in a game since Feb. 18, but it was the big New Zealander who got things moving in the second half.

After chasing down a loose ball in the corner, Salt faked out everybody with a drive to the hoop, reverse layup and free throw to complete the conventional three-point play.

Another hoop-and-harm and another layup, and the Virginia offense was suddenly purring.

The ‘Hoos would make nine of their 11 shots at the rim in the second half, and not surprisingly, things opened up on the perimeter.

Guy would finish with 29 points on 7-of-9 shooting from three, and De’Andre Hunter had 13 of his 16 points after halftime, getting his points in the paint the unofficial way: by going hard to the hoop and drawing fouls, and draining seven of his eight free-throw attempts.

And that Salt guy: he had 18 points, on 7-of-8 shooting from the field, and 4-of-5 shooting at the foul line.

Salt had scored a total of 18 points in his last 10 games, dating back to the Feb. 2 win over Miami.

He was the catalyst Thursday, for sure.

Column by Chris Graham

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Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

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