No. 8 Virginia blows out St. Francis Brooklyn in home opener
Nichols, Guy and Diakite make their JPJ debuts
They didn’t execute on offense with the same efficiency and care that have defined coach Tony Bennett’s program the past two seasons — turning the ball over 10 times — but No. 8 Virginia got it done defensively Tuesday night in its home-opening 72-32 win over St. Francis Brooklyn. The Terriers (0-2) shot just 22.9 percent from the floor.
“We want every possession to be a battle for the other team, and so far they’ve embraced that, where we give them nothing easy,” Bennett said. “A couple transition buckets when we weren’t alert, early we got lift-faked a couple times … but for the most part, even though they were spread out, they didn’t get into our paint.”
Within a one-minute span early in the first half, loud ovations from the John Paul Jones Arena crowd acknowledged freshman guard Kyle Guy’s and junior forward Austin Nichols’ home debuts for the Cavaliers (2-0).
Guy contributed 5 points and added two assists, including a dime back to the cutting Nichols for a two-handed slam in what would be the pair’s final possession together on the floor.
After picking up two quick fouls in the first half, Nichols flashed his scoring abilities in the second. The transfer from Memphis finished with 11 points and three defensive rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
“It’s been a while, a whole year sitting out can do a lot mentally,” Nichols said. “I tried to stay strong and positive mentally, and I think I did a good job of that. Getting a couple of buckets was definitely good for my mentality. … After that it was a little less nerve-racking.”
Not long after his two teammates entered, redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite also made his first appearance in a Virginia uniform. He slashed to the bucket, finishing through a foul for his first career field goal with 10:42 remaining in the second half, and had an absurd block with 2:15 left. Diakite produced eight points and four boards in 14 minutes.
“I talked to Mamadi a little bit,” junior forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “Just because he’s the only one who hasn’t played a game yet, because Austin played at Memphis. I just told him be confident in what you do — you’ve done it in practices and the scrimmages — so go out there and have fun. He definitely did that.”
Ranked the No. 2 player in the country by ESPN staff writers earlier Tuesday, senior guard London Perrantes shot 0-5 from three-point range in the first half. Perrantes played only eight second half minutes, exiting for the night with 8 points on four-of-nine shooting.
The Cavaliers shot 59.6 percent for the contest, outscoring St. Francis Brooklyn 46-8 in the paint to make up for going 0-10 from downtown. It was the first time the team hasn’t hit a three since its Virgin Islands Paradise Jam game against Drake in 2011.
“[We have to] try not to settle for threes and work from the inside out,” Wilkins said. “We just need to get back to work and practice and keep shooting. Eventually, they will fall. We have to come back the next day and work hard.”
Wilkins and junior guard Marial Shayok both owned their respective roles Tuesday. His impact on the game was not glaring on the statsheet, but Wilkins made his mark with hustle and composure. He totaled four points, three rebounds, two steals and a block.
Wilkins’ steal and emphatic slam on the other end at 15:16 gave Virginia a 47-18 lead, forced Terrier coach Glenn Braica to call a timeout and brought many of the 14,471 fans in attendance to their feet.
Shayok pitched in 8 points, knocking down several contested looks off the dribble. After losing close to 20 pounds in the offseason, Shayok's knees are healthier and he doesn't seem to tire as easily.
“I know I’m going to get in, play hard and show everything I worked for this summer,” Shayok said. “I’m not really thinking about who’s starting right now. I’m just going to trust coach.”
With contributions up and down the roster — 12 players chipped in points — the Cavaliers displayed an unselfish, deep offense, especially in the second half. Sophomore forward Jarred Reuter, junior forward Jack Salt, junior guard Darius Thompson and junior guard Devon Hall added 9, 6, 4 and 4 points respectively.
“We are going to have to be more balanced,” Bennett said. “Certainly when some guys get hot, you work with them, but I think … this is more of a balanced scoring team, and I like that.”