No. 6 men’s basketball faces first ranked foe Saturday

Cavaliers host No. 25 West Virginia in border clash at JPJ

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Saturday, the Virginia men’s basketball team hosts West Virginia in what will be a matchup of two of the best defensive teams in the NCAA.

Wednesday, No. 6 Cavaliers (7-0) edged out a 63-61 win against Ohio State (6-1) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. A sloppy first half — which included 28.6 percent shooting, seven turnovers and only four assists — put Virginia down by as many as 16.

Going into the break, the Cavaliers found themselves down 12, with few opportunities to close the gap.

“We had a pretty direct conversation with all of them and what we stand for, what we built our program on, how it has to be and not to kid ourselves,” coach Tony Bennett said about the team’s halftime conversation. “I got after London [Perrantes]. I said, ‘Come on. Let’s go in every way, shape and form,’ and he did, he played.”

The Cavaliers came out in the second half an improved team and were able to rally a comeback to pull out the victory. The second half charge was led by the lone scholarship senior guard London Perrantes, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half.

“It was the tale of two halves for [Perrantes], without a doubt,” Bennett said. “He had a terrific second half and a not-so-terrific first half, to be polite. I got after him and he responded the right way — defensively.”

Perrantes knew after half that he was not going to let a rare Bennett tirade go to waste.

“That’s the most I’ve gotten ripped by him since I’ve been here,” Perrantes said. “It sparked us all just knowing that I can respond to something like that. That means that everyone can too. Just being able to go out after that and play the way we did is huge.”

Junior guard Devon Hall was the only other Virginia player in double digits, scoring 12 points. Heading into Saturday, the Cavaliers lead the nation with just 44.1 points allowed per game, nearly nine points better than the next best team.

Meanwhile, No. 25 West Virginia’s “Press Virginia” defense has found much success so far this season. The Mountaineers (5-1) lead the NCAA in steals per game (13.67), forced turnovers (27.33) and turnover margin (16.2). In its most recent win against Manhattan, West Virginia forced a team record 40 turnovers.

The team’s lone loss came against Temple, who beat two ranked teams en route to winning the NIT Season Tip-Off. In the loss, West Virginia forced 19 turnovers, nine of which happened over the course of eight-and-a-half minutes during a second half rally. However, the Mountaineers also turned the ball over 16 times — the team’s most all season.

Virginia and West Virginia last matched up a year ago, when the Cavaliers, like in the Buckeyes game, overcame a slow first half to take the victory against the Mountaineers, 70-54. Perrantes, in his first game back from an appendectomy, got out to a slow start but added 13 in the second half to help his team to victory.

Looking forward to the West Virginia game, Perrantes discussed Virginia’s four-guard line-up.

“We played a little bit of the offense [in the Ohio State game] that we’ll play in the West Virginia game,” Perrantes said. “We weren’t planning on it, but it was just something that we needed to do. So being able to play today with that four-guard line-up will be able to help us on Saturday.”

So far this season, the two teams’ offensive efforts look similar on paper. The Cavaliers are shooting 49.7 percent from field goal range and 39 percent from behind the arc, compared to the Mountaineers’ 48 percent and 39.4 percent, respectively. Both teams also have balanced scoring rosters, with a few players averaging low double digits and most players averaging single digits.

The Mountaineers’ main offensive threat is senior forward Nathan Adrian, who averages 13.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game. He leads the Mountaineers in all three categories. Sophomore forward Esa Ahmad will also be one to look out for. He has come off two strong offensive games, scoring 19 points in both the Manhattan and Temple matchups.

For the Cavaliers, Perrantes leads in scoring with 10.6 points per game. Fellow guards, junior Marial Shayok and senior Darius Thompson, come next with 9.3 and 9.1 points per game, respectively. Perrantes also leads the team in assists.

The game will be both teams’ first against a ranked opponent this season, and will tip at 2 p.m. Saturday from John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville.

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