Hunter’s breakout game lifts Virginia over Monmouth

Redshirt freshman drops 23 points to lead offense

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Redshirt freshman guard De'Andre Hunter scored a career-high 23 points in Virginia's win over Monmouth.  

Emma Lewis | Cavalier Daily

After a hard fought victory against VCU Friday, the Virginia men’s basketball team returned home to take on Monmouth in the season’s second game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Cavaliers (4-0, 0-0 ACC) played another sound game on both ends as they cruised to a 73-53 win.

Virginia got another big performance from one of its young stars in redshirt freshman guard De’Andre Hunter. Hunter dropped 23 points and picked up eight rebounds, keeping the Cavaliers in sync on offense the entire day.

After showing some inconsistency in the first few games of his college career, Hunter found his scoring groove Sunday by shooting with confidence. 

“The last few games I haven't really been playing my game as well as I could. The coaches just told me to stay confident and stay ready, and that's what I tried to do," Hunter said. 

Virginia started the game cold on offense, as turnovers and missed shots allowed Monmouth (2-2, 0-0 MAAC) to jump out to a 15-8 lead in the first eight minutes. Hunter checked in at that point and immediately took over the game, scoring the Cavaliers next eight points to give them the lead for good.

Hunter’s presence on the floor immediately put the Virginia offense in sync after the shaky start. Virginia Coach Tony Bennett believed patience was the key for the Cavaliers in figuring out their offense during the game.

"You aren't going to win a game or lose a game in the first five minutes,” Bennett said. “You need to play against Monmouth, the way they defend they kind of run a pack-oriented defense. There is going to have to be a level of patience. I thought we had a couple really good possessions defensively and a loose ball then they threw one in.”

Virginia did not have to sweat much after seizing the initial lead as they built an 18-point halftime lead. The Cavalier offense also got major contributions from two of its other young guns. Sophomore guard Kyle Guy chipped in 13 points while sophomore forward Mamadi Diakite dropped 10 points and picked up six rebounds. 

Diakite has flashed promise as a scorer throughout his time as a Cavalier, but the sophomore came up big by asserting himself on the glass Sunday with his rebounds. 

"[Rebounding] has always been the thing I've been good at, and I kept doing it as much as I could to bring something to the team," Diakite said. 

Guy, meanwhile, thrived in the paint as a driver against the Hawks. Usually known for his penchant for big threes, the sophomore changed up his plan of attack Sunday, with only three of his shots coming from beyond the arc as opposed to nine against VCU.

Defensively, Virginia looked like its usual dominant self against Monmouth. The Cavaliers held the Hawks to only 33.3 percent shooting and forced 14 turnovers. Redshirt freshman forward Jay Huff had three of Virginia’s five blocks.   

With offensive issues ultimately dooming Virginia last season down the stretch, the Cavaliers have seemed to correct some of their major flaws as they adopted a more aggressive inside approach. A tough non-conference stretch over the next couple weeks will give Virginia plenty of opportunities to show growth and refine the progress the team has made.

The Cavaliers travel to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. for the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament this weekend. The team will first take on Vanderbilt on Thanksgiving day before playing the winner of the other half of the bracket, featuring Seton Hall and Rhode Island. All four teams reached the NCAA Tournament last year.

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