The No. 8 Virginia basketball team slowed down Yale’s red-hot offense in a Sunday afternoon matinee to win 62-38. The Cavaliers (3-0) held the Bulldogs (2-1) — who came into the matchup averaging 93.5 points per game — to just 38 points.
“We just came out to play defense. That’s who we are really,” redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite said. “We play defense, and we try to wear the other team down to make sure to win the game.”
Diakite was one of the players who supported the defense off the bench Sunday. He had four blocked shots — causing the Virginia crowd to roar with each block.
Virginia’s win comes just two days after Bennett dismissed junior forward Austin Nichols from the team for not meeting team standards. There was anticipation about how the Cavaliers would perform without Nichols, who was the top scorer in their previous game against St. Francis Brooklyn.
However, Virginia was supported by Diakite’s phenomenal performance, who came off the bench to record five points and seven rebounds.
“If you have a guy behind that can block some shots and clean up some things, then that’s good,” coach Tony Bennett said. “I think that his development, his maturity and all those things through the course of the year will be good for us and will help him a lot in light of having one less player, and with not having Austin in the interior mix.”
The Cavaliers relied on another player who came off the bench in junior guard Marial Shayok. Shayok led Virginia in scoring with 15 points, providing the offensive spark the Cavaliers needed to get things going.
“I think Marial obviously brings a scoring punch. He’s a hard-playing defender and offensively, he’s aggressive. I like that,” Bennett said. “You could easily start a number of guys with this group, but Marial has really done a good job and brought some life when we needed it. I think he got some stuff going for us.”
However, Virginia had to overcome a slow start in the opening half. Both teams struggled to make shots early, and despite a three pointer from senior point guard London Perrantes, the Cavaliers were losing 10-9 with 18.8 percent field goal shooting at the under-12 timeout.
“I thought our impatience offensively affected us because Yale is a good offensive team,” Bennett said. “Our offense was a little quick. Some of those were good shots early, but we weren’t willing to break them down and get the good looks.”
Yale freshman forward Blake Reynolds, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 10 points, made a three to give Yale a 17-14 lead before the score went back and forth one final time when Yale tied the game up at 19. However, Virginia never gave up their lead after Perrantes made a tricky layup, giving the Cavaliers a 21-19 lead. The senior controlled the court, scoring eight points and leading Virginia in assists with seven.
Shayok scored from behind the arc to give the Cavaliers’ 26-19 lead, then made a jump shot on Virginia’s next possession to make it 28-21 at the end of the half. Virginia filed out of the court with momentum going into the intermission — and never looked back. The Cavaliers ultimately held the Bulldogs to 33 percent shooting, and improved their own shooting to 40 percent.
Enter freshman guard Kyle Guy, who the Cavaliers brought in after trading scores back and forth with Yale early in the second half. Guy made back-to-back three pointers, followed by a steal and layup by junior guard Darius Thompson, who tallied 11 points overall, to extend Virginia’s lead to 53-33. The freshman compiled a total of 12 points off the bench — which bodes well for Virginia, who will have to increasingly rely on younger talent this season.
“Kyle was coming off some screens and hitting some shots,” Bennett said. “This is a team that knows it is going to have to be different guys, different times, in the balance.”
With the crowd already roaring, Diakite came in clutch on defense once again, leaping over the Bulldogs and making back-to-back blocks at the rim.
“We see some stuff in practice that is just unreal, and we sometimes have to stop practice to double take and think about what he just did,” Perrantes said. “It’s nothing new to us … having him out there is huge.”
Virginia ultimately went on a 16-0 run over 8:21 in the second half and led Yale 53-33 with 6:51 remaining in the game. The Cavaliers’ run ended after a Bulldogs score, but sophomore center Jack Salt answered with a layup to preserve Virginia’s 20-point lead at 55-35.
The Cavaliers continued to add to their lead and only allowed Yale to score three more points for the remainder of the game. Virginia let the clock run out in the final seconds, securing a 62-38 victory.