It is fair to say Wednesday night’s game against Miami was not the first thing on the minds of fans of the No. 12 Virginia men’s basketball team. Looming all year has been Saturday’s matchup against No. 4 Syracuse, and it has been hard for observers of the program — fans and writers — to ignore.
While all the focus outside of the program was on Saturday, though, the Virginia players seemed squarely focused on Miami. Behind 15 points from both freshman point guard London Perrantes and redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon, the Cavaliers once again dominated an ACC opponent, crushing the Hurricanes 65-40, winning their 12th straight game and improving to 15-1 in the ACC.
“You always hope [players don’t overlook games], because of all the talk that’s going on,” coach Tony Bennett said. “I thought we played solidly. We just tried to make Miami earn and shoot those contested shots. … I thought our guys had the right mindset.”
The game was back and forth early, as the teams traded leads for the first seven minutes. Virginia (24-5, 15-1 ACC) would go ahead 10-8 with 11:45 left in the first half, and they would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. Perrantes was stellar from the field, shooting 3-for-3 in the first half — including two 3-pointers — to lead the Cavaliers with nine points and help Virginia to a 27-20 halftime lead. Perrantes is mainly pass-first when he gets the ball from long range — he had only 18 made threes coming into the game — but Bennett has asserted throughout the year that he could be a danger from behind the arc.
“That was important for us,” Bennett said. “I’ve seen him shoot the ball well, and we’ve been working hard at it, so good for him. He played a very good game, and you need that. It’s been well documented — different guys, different times on this team has made it as effective as it’s been.”
Perrantes has been a highly efficient floor general — he ranks 12th nationally with a 3.7 assist-turnover ratio — but he has only led the team in scoring once, putting up eight points in Virginia’s brutal 48-38 loss to No. 14 Wisconsin in December. Wednesday, he was highly potent from the field, but he said it was a product of Virginia’s system.
“[I] just do what the defense gives me,” Perrantes said. “None of us should do anything overboard. We just work on our offense, and take what the defense gives us. I know that the defense is leaving me open, so I’m knocking down shots and making them pay.”
After halftime, the story was much of the same. The Cavaliers opened up the half on a 16-5 run to quickly seize control and never looked back. Virginia lead by at least seven points for the entire second half, and pushed its lead to nearly 20 points with just less than 10 minutes to play.
“We have to play every possession,” Bennett said. “I don’t know if there was a big explosion that ignited it, but we just kept chipping away and getting better shots. I don’t know if we wore them down at all, but I feel as though we got in a stride offensively and stayed fairly stingy defensively.”
Miami (14-14, 5-10 ACC) was hampered all game by abysmal shooting from behind the arc. The Hurricanes did not hit a 3-pointer all game, going 0-for-12 from long range. Miami made only 12 field goals overall in the entire game, shooting 26.1 percent from the field.
“I thought we bothered a lot,” Bennett said. “I think they were mostly contested. … The percentages are staggering — when people shoot and you chart a contested versus an uncontested three, it’s almost a 20 percent difference. That’s just a hand bothering them, and that’s an important stat for us.”
Perrantes continued his excellent play in the second, going 2-for-2 from the field in the second half to finish with 15. Brogdon also had 15 points on 4-for-9 shooting in the game — he has scored in double figures in every ACC game. Miami barely troubled Virginia in the last 10 minutes, as the Cavaliers built a 25-point lead with just more than two minutes to play, and closed out the 65-40 win.
With the win, Virginia picks up its school-record 15th ACC win, and the Cavaliers will look to extend their 12-game winning streak as they host Syracuse (26-2, 13-2 ACC) Saturday in one of their most highly anticipated home games in recent years. A win against the Orange would clinch the ACC regular season title, but the Virginia players are trying to make sure they do not get caught up in the excitement.
“It’s huge, but obviously as a player you try and block out the distractions and the publicity that the game is getting,” Brogdon said. “I really feel like it’s not about that, and at the end of the day it’s just another basketball game that we have to go in and play our game for.”