Jake Groves didn’t expect to start Wednesday, only learning about 45 minutes before the tip with #14 Texas A&M that he would be in the starting lineup.
“It’s one of those things where you just stay ready,” said Groves, a grad transfer from Oklahoma, who went 32 minutes for Virginia in the 59-47 win over A&M in the ACC/SEC Challenge game at JPJ.
Groves, a 6’9” stretch four, has been getting the lion’s share of the minutes at the five spot this season for Tony Bennett, averaging 20.3 minutes per game as a floor-spacer on the offensive end.
Rebounding is not his strong suit – he’s averaging 2.6 boards per game, though he upped that a bit Wednesday night, grabbing four rebounds to go along with his 12 points.
It’s what he does on the offensive end that gets him floor time,
“I thought Jake was, you know, some of the action we ran, we needed his ability to stretch it and make some plays,” Bennett told reporters postgame.
A personal 7-0 Groves run – a three, a pull-up jumper and a shot-clock buzzer-beater – turned a late seven-point lead into a 14-point bulge, and set the tone for the endgame as Virginia closed things out on the Aggies.
The rebounding issue that has plagued the ‘Hoos all month was still an issue last night. A&M came into the game leading the nation in offensive-rebounding percentage, grabbing 46.2 percent of their own misses, and the Aggies had 18 offensive boards last night, a 43.9 percent rate, which they converted into 16 second-chance points.
Groves said after the game that rebounding was an obvious big point of emphasis in the week between the 1-1 trip to South Florida, which included an ugly loss to a Wisconsin team that seemed to get every loose ball, and a tight win over an undermanned West Virginia squad that owned the glass on both ends, and the game with A&M.
The focus in practice, Groves said, “was just having to box out every possession, every player,” and what you could call team rebounding.
“A lot of times, I mean, the team, all five guys, went, and if not, four guys were going, and so I think it’s important for our guards to help rebound down, and a guy like myself, who is far undersized playing the five against those guys, my job is just to maybe not get the rebound myself, but make sure they don’t get the rebound,” Groves said.
To that point, guard Andrew Rohde was the guy who led Virginia in rebounds, with six, all on the defensive end of the floor.
“I was just pushing and battling and shoving guys around, and just trying to make sure they don’t get the ball, whatever that takes,” Groves said. “That’s definitely something we work on in practice every single day, knowing that we’re kind of a smaller team, and rebounding is gonna be a huge key for us going forward.”
Groves is this team’s Ben Vander Plas, the 6’8” stretch four who ended up in the starting lineup in mid-January because Bennett wanted his ability to space the floor with his perimeter shooting more than he wanted 6’11” Kadin Shedrick, who has since transferred out to Texas, to patrol the lane, block shots and grab rebounds.
Groves, Bennett said, “gives us a guy that stretches the floor. So, not only him making some threes, but opening up some lanes, and when people, you know, can do that, that’s advantageous.”
The days of having a big like Shedrick or Jack Salt getting 25-30 minutes a game to set screens and play defense at the five are long gone.