Ty Jerome made one “bonehead play.” Outside of that, he was outstanding

uva basketball bear creekMINNEAPOLIS — For the right individuals, Tony Bennett is a players’ coach. He starred in college and spent time in the NBA. The son of a college coach, he knows the trials and tribulations of the coaching profession — not the least of which is dealing with his players. If you buy into his system, he will buy into you as a player and a person.

Ty Jerome bought into Bennett’s system earlier than most ever have, committing to Virginia before his junior year even started, over four years ago. And for a fellow point guard, Bennett has proved a great fit — a knowledgeable mind who was patient as Jerome developed as an underclassman while still demanding him to play at his best. Three days after the UMBC loss, the two met to discuss how they could improve. Their thought processes are about as similar as it gets for two completely different people.

That’s why Bennett was baffled with 4:32 left and his disciple had just picked up his fourth foul — a silly, unnecessary one at that.

“Yeah, I said, ‘Why did you do that?!’” a half-still-exasperated, half-relieved Bennett explained after Virginia’s 63-62 heart-stopping win over Auburn.

It was just about the only thing Bennett could have been upset with, though, regarding Jerome’s play Saturday night inside U.S. Bank Stadium. The junior guard scored 21 points and dished out a six assists — both game highs — and added a team-best nine rebounds.

The main story of the game, of course, wasn’t Jerome’s foul — that belonged to Auburn’s Samir Doughty — or Jerome’s heroics. That belonged to Kyle Guy. But that didn’t stop Bruce Pearl from making sure Virginia’s floor general got his recognition.

“Don’t let [the foul] define the game, because then you’re taking away from Ty Jerome,” Pearl said.

Heading into the game, Auburn had some pointed words for Jerome.

“It’s gonna be easier for us smaller guys to press under [Jerome], because he doesn’t like ball pressure, so it’s gonna be good for us,” McCormick said.

Instead, a Tigers team that thrived on forcing turnovers all season got just eight giveaways from the Cavaliers and just two from Jerome, who had the ball in his hands for much of the night. Just as importantly, Jerome did a terrific job helping Virginia set the tempo early and control it throughout. The 59 possessions Saturday represented the second-fewest Auburn played all year, but it was the perfect pace for Virginia: The Cavaliers have averaged 59.3 per game this season.

Moreover, Jerome simply seemed to make the right play time after time. He assisted on Virginia’s first two baskets — to Mamadi Diakite and Kihei Clark — on terrific finds underneath. Of his five made shots in the first half, four either moved Virginia into a lead or tie. In the second half, Jerome poured in eight more points and five more rebounds. And though his play fell off a bit as he dealt with late foul trouble, he made the two most important passes of the night. The first was to Guy, who canned a corner three to cut the deficit to one point.

“That three Kyle hit was off a play that coach put in,” Jerome said. “Everyone did their job screening, and Kyle hit a super tough shot.”

The pass that truly saved Virginia, though, didn’t go down as an assist. A perfect pass from Jerome with 1.5 seconds left allowed Guy to catch, turn and shoot in rhythm and draw a foul.

“It’s a play we put in and practiced it multiple times,” Jerome said. “It wasn’t just luck. We worked on that situation a lot.”

Guy was eager to heap praise on his backcourt mate.

“He played freakin’ phenomenal,” Guy said. “He carried us through this game.”

Jerome’s value was on display most, though, when he couldn’t carry his team. The Cavaliers went five minutes and 15 seconds without a point before Guy’s six points in seven seconds. And they played much of that 5:15 without Jerome.

Save for that one moment of frustration, though, this was Jerome at his finest. After agreeing with the assertion that guard play is the key in the postseason on Friday, he backed it up on Saturday.

“Luckily, we somehow came out on top, so I get another chance to play Monday,” Jerome said. “But to put myself on the bench and leave my teammates like that in crunch time is a terrible decision.”

After the Cavaliers celebrated deliriously on the court, they returned to their locker room a much quieter, more composed bunch. Jerome, who’s as emotional as they come, was completely fine with that.

“I think it’s because we’re so close to our goals,” Jerome said. “Every round, we’re so thankful to advance. We’re so close to our goal that I think we start saying, ‘one more’ before we touch the locker room.”

Jerome carried Virginia in the first half, got some help in the second half, found himself helpless on the bench and then delivered two pinpoint passes to give Guy — and Virginia — a chance. He’ll, in turn, have a chance at a national championship Monday night.

Freakin’ phenomenal, indeed.

Story by Zach Pereles


Augusta Free Press coverage of the 2019 postseason is presented by Bear Creek. Serving Waynesboro, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg and surrounding communities, Bear Creek provides a hassle-free process to help homeowners create outdoor living spaces that bring people together. Schedule a consultation at BearCreek.co.


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