GOSSAGE: Half the battle
I wish I had heard coach Tony Bennett’s speech at half. He is as calm as they come in the profession, but he showed some fire Wednesday after his Virginia team entered the break trailing Ohio State, 36-24.
The Cavaliers had shot 26.8 percent from the floor, turned the basketball over seven times and assisted on just four buckets. In the pack-line, they had given up an uncharacteristic 22 points in the paint.
“We got thoroughly outplayed in every way, shape and form in the first half,” Bennett said. “They beat us down the floor. They were the aggressor on the glass. They were just a tough-minded, talented team. And we could not stop them in any way, really.”
Virginia’s 23-game winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena was in serious jeopardy, that is until Bennett’s team rocked the house with an 11-0 run to start the second half. Capping it off, junior guard Devon Hall drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 36-35. He finished with a season-high 12 points.
“For me, it was being assertive, and being aggressive and staying confident,” Hall said. “I wasn’t scoring as high as I did tonight, but that comes and goes. … Being able to step up was big for me.”
As sweet as it was to see the Cavaliers rally back and ultimately pull out the 63-61 victory Wednesday night, that kind of first half will not lead to many victories this season, especially when you consider who is looming on the schedule. The way the Cavaliers play, possession by possession, it is not easy to fight back, to dig out of that kind of hole.
“We watched the tape the other day on when we beat Ohio State there, and we were a little sleepy,” Bennett said. “I said, ‘Maybe last year’s team, at times, though we never said it, they had a little more firepower and could afford to be sleepy.’ … This team cannot do that.”
Fighting back also takes up a lot of energy. Virginia has only two days to recover before it faces a talented, up-and-down West Virginia team Saturday afternoon. The first-half lull for the Cavaliers is not a new thing, as Bennett suggested. In the 2015 Jimmy V Classic, his team came out flat against the Mountaineers.
West Virginia led 32-20 with only five minutes remaining in the half. Although Virginia went on a major run to cut it to 36-30 at the break, and later outscored West Virginia 40-18 in the second half, that rotation featured go-to scorers in Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill.
Without those two this season, especially Brogdon, a player who could take over on both ends of the floor for long stretches, it makes getting back into a game even more difficult. Remember two seasons ago in the ACC Tournament semifinal versus North Carolina when the Cavaliers could not buy a bucket in the first 20 minutes?
They shot only 37.5 percent, 16.7 from behind the arc.
Virginia faced a 30-23 deficit at intermission, and had trouble chipping away at it once play resumed. Anderson was still recovering from his appendectomy and injured finger. He was not himself, could not handle the basketball. The Tar Heels had held him scoreless.
Brogdon single-handedly brought the Cavaliers back into the ballgame. He scored 22 of his career-high 25 in the second half, hitting eight-straight shots. Virginia fell to North Carolina, 71-67, but had No. 15 been off the court, it would not have been close.
Bennett found himself calling a play for “Malcolm” when the going got rough Wednesday night. His players in the huddle looked at him funny. Then Bennett realized he was talking to Perrantes.
Perrantes could be that guy who goes off when the Cavaliers get into trouble this season. He caught fire in the second half after scoring just four points on 1-5 shooting in the first. The Los Angeles, Calif. native shot 5-7 over the final 20 minutes, including three of three from downtown. Perrantes scored a game-high 19 points.
“I knew I wasn’t playing to the best of my ability or even close, and I feel like that was hurting our team,” Perrantes said. “I was on myself about it and I’m glad coach Bennett got on me. That’s the most I’ve gotten ripped by him since I’ve been here.”
Bennett has said he likes the balanced scoring this team provides. But if Virginia is going to have dry spells like the one it had against Ohio State, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta better be right when he said to Perrantes after the game, “Last year it was Brogdon, and this year it’s you.”
Grant Gossage is a Senior Associate Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.