No. 12 men’s basketball takes on rival Virginia Tech
Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg for round two of Commonwealth Clash
Round two of the Commonwealth Clash is set to take place Sunday, as No.12 Virginia heads to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech (16-6, 5-5 ACC).
The Cavaliers (18-5, 8-3 ACC) are coming off a big bounce-back win Monday against Louisville, in which Virginia defeated the No. 4 team in the nation by 16 points.
The game marked Virginia’s second victory of the season against the Cardinals (19-5, 7-4 ACC) and it was the most recent win of four-straight for the Cavaliers in this matchup.
“We just played good basketball,”coach Tony Bennett said. “We knew after the Syracuse game, we had to come home and play because every game is significant at this stage in ACC play. I think we felt the importance of it, as you do every game.”
Although Virginia trailed by two points at halftime, the Cavaliers proceeded to go on a 22-5 run in the second half that Louisville could not respond to.
Senior guard London Perrantes — who is averaging 12.2 points per game — led his team in scoring with 18 points. Junior forward Isaiah Wilkins also had a big night, recording his first collegiate double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Not only did Wilkins put up great numbers for Virginia, but his mentality was largely responsible for energizing his team.
“I feel like I’ve been that guy since I got here,” Wilkins said. “I’ve always had energy in some way, shape or form. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and that’s who I am.”
Wilkins was one of three of Virginia’s big men to make a solid contribution to the win, with sophomore Jack Salt and redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite also having big nights.
“I felt like we needed rim protection because people are trying to attack us off the dribble,” Bennett said. “To have Jack [Salt] back there and then Mamadi [Diakite] and Isaiah [Wilkins] — that can clean up some mistakes. I thought there were some big plays where maybe they did get into our paint, but we were bothering them defensively. That was good.”
Although Diakite hasn’t seen much playing time, he has tried to cash in on his opportunities.
“I’ve learned a lot from playing and not playing in games,” Diakite said. “I have the mindset when I’m not playing to get more focused and even better. I’m ready to go the second they call me … before you step up on that court you have to be ready to play.”
Having success from both their forwards and guards will give the Cavaliers confidence as they prepare for the Hokies, whom they dominated with a 71-48 win less than two weeks ago.
“The thing that hurt us most was that our turnover rate was way too high for as slow of a game as that was,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said after the loss. “22 percent of the time we gave the ball to them without a shot, and that’s mathematically incredibly hard to overcome.”
Despite the Cavaliers’ powerful win, road games in the ACC have proved to be grueling challenges. Virginia is familiar with this, with two of their three conference losses being away games. To add to the difficulty of playing on the road for Virginia, Virginia Tech has shown it is very comfortable playing in Blacksburg — boasting a 12-1 record at Cassell Coliseum.
Bennett knows the intensity each game in the ACC holds, and he constantly reminds his team of that.
“Because everybody’s capable of knocking each other off in this league, I said, ‘Every game, you’re playing for your basketball season,’” Bennett said. “Now we’re getting to the second half and every game has major significance for a lot of reasons. Embrace that, appreciate it and play that way, and then we’ll pick up no matter what happens.”
The situation for the game Sunday is similar to when Virginia faced Virginia Tech on the road last year, and although the Cavaliers were favored as the better team, they lost to the Hokies in a 68-70 game.
Senior forward Zach LeDay had a big presence in that game last year, recording 22 points. LeDay — who is leading the Hokies in scoring this season with an average of 15.9 points per game — also managed to get 12 points and six rebounds in the first matchup against Virginia.
The Hokies — who are putting up an average of 79.7 points a game — are also very capable of generating offense through senior guard Seth Allen and sophomore guard Ahmed Hill, with each averaging 12.5 points per game.
Thus, with vengeance on their mind and a home crowd to cheer them on, Virginia Tech will make for a very challenging opponent for the Cavaliers.
Tipoff in Blacksburg is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Following the match, Virginia will prepare for one of the toughest weeks of its season as it hosts No. 18 Duke Wednesday night and then travels to No. 8 North Carolina Saturday.