TOBIN: Coming to his own
Coach Tony Bennett took a big risk by putting the ball in freshman guard Ty Jerome’s hands at the end of the matchup against then-No. 1 Villanova this past weekend. Rather than opting for senior point guard London Perrantes or freshman guard Kyle Guy to get the Cavaliers out of a 59-57 hole with 37 seconds left, Bennett drew up an ISO play for a player who is averaging 2.4 points per game on the season.
Yet in this moment of great pressure, the freshman looked poised beyond his years. Keeping the ball in his hands for the entire possession, Jerome drove to the rim and nailed a finger roll to tie the game up, 59-59.
We all know what followed — the Wildcats successfully nailed a tip-in at the buzzer to win the game, 61-59. While the loss was heartbreaking, Hoo fans should be more excited about what Jerome can provide for the team in the future.
Hailing from New Rochelle, N.Y., Jerome had quite the illustrious career at Iona Preparatory School. With a 24.7 points per game average before a season-ending hip surgery his senior year, Jerome earned a four-star ranking and landed the No. 43 spot on ESPN’s Top 100 recruits.
Although he was a star in high school, Jerome never drew as much attention as his fellow freshman guard Kyle Guy. Dubbed “Mr. Basketball” in Indiana his senior year, Guy ranked No. 27 on the same ESPN list.
Even this season, Jerome lived in Guy’s shadow. From the onset of the season, Guy earned more minutes off the bench and had more breakout games, including a sensational 17-point game that helped lift Virginia over California, 56-52. Guy has beaten Jerome in most statistical categories, and he has received more buzz all season long.
However, Villanova was the Ty Jerome show. Even before his game-tying shot, Jerome showed more aggression than he had all season. The freshman — who had never attempted more than five field goals in a single game — jacked up nine shots. He made six of those, and three were beyond the arc. In total, Jerome led all Virginia scorers with a career-high 15 points.
On top of his recent aggression, Jerome has also been incredibly efficient given the fact that he’s coming off the bench. Against Notre Dame, Jerome scored eight points in only 14 minutes of play.
“The guy’s stepping up … to get that [performance] from [Jerome] was significant, and he’s been showing that in practice,” Bennett said following Virginia’s 71-54 win against then-No. 14 Notre Dame.
These efficient buckets continued against Villanova, as his 15 points came from only 24 minutes of play. Ultimately, it was Jerome’s quality minutes that allowed Virginia to be competitive with the Wildcats and to lead them for a strong portion of the game.
Jerome showed plenty of potential greatness in high school — being in within the top 50 of ESPN’s rankings is nothing to balk at. He fired up shots at will, and Sunday’s game against Villanova showed he still possesses that fire in college.
Though the most important thing to note in Villanova’s game is Jerome served as Virginia’s scoring rock. He was arguably Virginia’s player of the game, which is an incredible feat given the Cavaliers were facing the No. 1 team at the time.
A few weeks back, I wrote about how Perrantes needed to be the team’s go-to-guy, especially in end-of-game situations. While it is indefensible to say anyone but Perrantes is Virginia’s most valuable player, Bennett chose to give Jerome a chance at the end of the game against Villanova.
Going forward, it will be fascinating to see how Bennett uses Jerome. It is hard to imagine Bennett will put him in the starting rotation this year — he’s not ready for that just yet. However, with Jerome coming to his own, expect to see him getting more playing time. The game against Villanova will not be the last time Bennett draws a play up for him to take a shot when the game is on the line.
Ben Tobin is an Assistant Managing Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TobinBen.