No. 6 Virginia seeks win in ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Cavaliers look to stretch unbeaten streak against Ohio State
Wednesday night, No. 6 Virginia will face Ohio State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge for the second year in a row.
Despite the Cavaliers’ (6-0) 64-58 victory over the Buckeyes (6-0) last year, the Big Ten went on to win the annual challenge.
“The ACC-Big Ten challenge is an exciting challenge,” coach Tony Bennett said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to represent the ACC well again.”
The Buckeyes come to John Paul Jones Arena after cruising to their sixth victory of the season, with a 111-70 win over Marshall. Senior forward Marc Loving led the way Friday with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Loving, who was named to the 2016 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention team, posed a problem for the Cavaliers when they played last year, as he managed to tally 19 points and 5 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia.
Junior Forward Jae’Sean Tate also was successful in last year’s matchup against the Cavaliers, recording 12 points and eight rebounds. Friday, Tate scored 20 points against the Herd (4-1), and has been the leader for the team so far this season, averaging 14.3 points and 7 rebounds per game. Tate was a member of the 2015 All-Big Ten All-Freshman team, and the 2016 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention Team.
Tate and Loving were also crucial to the Buckeyes’ most recent win by guiding the team to out-rebound Marshall 61-32.
In addition to the talented forwards, Ohio State has an offensive weapon in junior guard Kam Williams. Williams, who is averaging 13.7 points per game, made five 3-pointers against the Herd, to give him 17 points for the night.
“I think they do have terrific individual talented guys that have been productive in the Big Ten,” Bennett said. “They’re off to a very good start, and they’re defending better this year, you can see that’s a priority.”
Also off to a good start this year is sixth-ranked Virginia, who comes into the match undefeated after winning the Emerald Coast Classic with a 63-52 win over Providence.
While the Cavaliers were in control for a majority of the game, they faced a challenge when Providence (4-2) went on a 9-0 run in the beginning of the second half.
“It was good for us — we needed to be in a game like that,” Bennett said. “It was a physical team where we had to go through some adversity, and of course there will be that throughout the year, so I think you’ve got to learn from those experiences, but the guys rallied.”
Leading the way for the Cavaliers on Saturday night with 11 points each were senior guard London Perrantes, the tournament’s most valuable player, and junior guard Darius Thompson.
Thompson, who is averaging 10 points per game, is currently the leading scorer for a very balanced Virginia team.
“This year compared to last year, it’s different,” Thompson said. “We don’t sit back and think, oh who’s going to take over Malcolm [Brogdon]’s points or who’s going to take over Anthony [Gill]’s points. I think as a team we all try to do it collectively. We move the ball really well this year. I know there are a lot of times where someone has an open shot but we always kick it to one more and knock down shots. I think our team chemistry and ball movement this year is a lot better.”
Bennett also noted that this year’s team is not one carried by a single player, but one that utilizes joint efforts for success.
“It’s a group that relies on different guys at different times, and the balance will hopefully be the strength,” Bennett said.
In addition to demonstrating various offensive capabilities, Virginia has continued to live up to its reputation of being a dominant defensive force. The Cavaliers have given up an average of just 41.3 points per game this season, and have seen success from their big guys guarding the basket.
“I think there have been some nice moments of rim protection throughout the season,” Bennett said. “Whether it’s Jack Salt, Mamadi [Diakite] or Isaiah [Wilkins] — I think those are important things that if there is a breakdown, a player can erase that mistake.”
Not only is the defense largely responsible for bringing the Cavaliers wins, but it is also a crucial aspect in how Virginia prepares for competition.
“I would say we’ve been tested, but tested against each other in practice every day,” Thompson said. “We go against each other every day, battling against one of the better defenses in the country. I think our practices make us prepared for anybody.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 9:15 p.m. After facing Ohio State, the Cavaliers will remain in Charlottesville for another tough out-of-conference game against West Virginia.