The historic UMBC loss is officially behind No. 5 Virginia men’s basketball as they got the 2018-19 season off to a successful start with a 73-42 win over Towson.
“It’s a new year, it’s a new team and it didn’t feel any different to me than any other starts to the year,” Coach Tony Bennett said.
The Cavaliers (1-0) came in to John Paul Jones Arena Tuesday night with a starting lineup consisting of junior transfer guard Braxton Key, sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter, junior guard Kyle Guy, junior guard Ty Jerome and senior center Jack Salt.
“Any time we play basketball, we’re so excited — however last year ended.” Jerome said. “But then again, given how last year ended, I think we were even more excited to come out and get a win under our belts and just play basketball again.”
In the first half, Virginia’s defense was on display as they held the Tigers (0-1) to less than 20 points and forced 28.6 percent field goal shooting.
However, not a lot came easily for the Cavaliers on offense either, as they shot 37 percent overall and 28.6 from three in the first half. Jerome led the way with 11 points, going three-for-five from behind the three-point arc and scoring two free-throws. Hunter also contributed to Virginia’s early offense, getting seven points within the first 20 minutes of play.
Though it was Key’s first game as a Cavalier, it didn’t take him long to look comfortable in JPJ. Key had five rebounds, one block and three points in the first half.
Another new face for the Cavaliers was freshman guard Kihei Clark, who played for 13 minutes in the first half and recorded three assists.
“He’s super quick, and I think what separate him is that he really has a great feel for the game too, so when he mixes those two things together… he can really control the game,” Jerome said of Clark. “He’ll be a really big piece for us this year.”
Normally a lethal three-point shooter, Guy struggled early in the game and missed all four of his three-point attempts and shot one-for-five overall. Still, the Cavaliers did enough to head into the locker room with a 28-19 lead.
Virginia started to pull away in the second half, especially thanks to Jerome. He finished the night with a team-high 20 points – including six three-pointers – and four assists.
“You don’t want to live and die by the three, but we got some good looks and I thought that ignited us,” Bennett said. “Ty made some big shots … he has pretty deep range and he’s not bashful to take it.”
Last year’s ACC Sixth Man of the Year, Hunter also helped the Cavaliers stay on top of the Tigers with his 13 points and 10 rebounds. He was the only player on either team to record a double-double on the night.
“It was fun to get back out there, I haven’t played in a while and just being back out there with the team, it was really fun and me,” Hunter said. “And Braxton and I played really well together. He’s very versatile.”
Key continued to look solid for Virginia, finishing with seven points, nine rebounds, a block and a steal.
“Braxton has practiced well, once we knew he got the waiver,” Bennett said. “He brings versatility. He’s a physical player that rebounds … he’s versatile and brings physicality and awareness, so I thought that was important … and some good passing offensively."
Clark had a team-high six assists, with only one turnover, while sophomore forward Jay Huff finished with eight points, which included both a few dunks and a three-pointer. Guy never quite found his rhythm on offense, finishing with just eight points — compared to last year’s average of 14.1 points a game — and went one-for-five from three and two-for-six overall.
As a team, the Cavaliers shot 48.5 percent overall and 38.5 percent from three.
Virginia’s defense held Towson to 31.7 percent shooting and forced 14 turnovers. Guard Tobias Howard had a team-high 10 points. No other Towson player reached double-digit scoring.
“I thought we had some good defensive stands, at times we played some decent defense and then gave up offensive rebounds,” Bennett said. “A couple of times we got out of position. I thought their physicality was a bit much for us … I did think we picked it up for the most part positionally and rebounded a little better and took some stands defensively … no matter how good your defense is, if you can’t limit them to one shot, then it’s not good defense and that became a problem for us.”
The Cavaliers will stay in Charlottesville for their next game, which is a matchup against George Washington Nov. 11 at 2 p.m.