No. 4 men’s basketball defeats VCU 57-49 to stay undefeated

The Cavaliers stymied the Rams’ upset bid despite shooting less than 30 percent from the field


Freshman guard Kihei Clark played through an injury against VCU Sunday afternoon.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

In a game that saw both teams shoot less than 30 percent, the No. 4 Virginia men’s basketball team stymied VCU’s upset bid, winning 57-49 in front of a packed crowd at John Paul Jones Arena Sunday afternoon.

A decisive 19-6 run in the last 6:34 in the game was key in propelling the Cavaliers (9-0) to victory over the Rams (7-3), who had a lead for much of the second half. In the run, junior guard Ty Jerome had 10 of his 14 points.

The first half was a defensive battle, with both teams shooting under 40 percent from the field. Virginia junior guard Kyle Guy led all scorers with 13 points in the first half.

Virginia got off to a slow start offensively, not reaching the double-digit scoring mark until 13:35 in the first half. That said, VCU also struggled to get anything going offensively, and couldn’t capitalize on the Cavaliers’ early difficulties.

Junior transfer guard Braxton Key provided a great spark off the bench,coming up with a clutch three to make it 10-6 Virginia and grabbing a couple of rebounds.

VCU continued to hang around, though, and took the lead, 14-13, with 11:01 to go in the half.

Second-chance points hurt the Cavaliers, as the Rams came up with two huge offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions. It was 19-18 VCU, but the Cavaliers responded with a decisive 7-0 run.

Sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter got to the line for two points, Guy knocked down a contested three pointer and freshman guard Kihei Clark got to the basket with an athletic finish to make it 25-19 Virginia with 4:13 to go in the half.

The Rams refused to go away, cutting the deficit to one, but Jerome answered with a corner three to make it 28-24 Virginia. Guy added a free throw shortly after, and the Cavaliers were up 29-24 going into the half.

Virginia overcame five first-half turnovers, high for a team that led the nation with just 7.9 turnovers per game before this game, to have a slim lead going into the second half.

VCU came out of the gate hot, scoring the first seven points of the second half to retake the lead, 31-29.

Junior forward Mamadi Diakite came up with two consecutive buckets to make it 33-31 Virginia, but VCU responded with a three-point play to make it 34-33 Rams.

“Mamadi gave us a nice lift with some inside buckets,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “I’m happy for him.”

Virginia’s shooting woes continued. To start the second half, the Cavaliers shot just 2-16 from the field. They had just seven points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

With the Cavaliers unable to score, the Rams ran out to a five-point lead, their biggest of the game, with 6:53 left to go.

Jerome responded. The clutch junior guard came up with a layup and three-pointer to tie the game at 43 apiece.

“You have to give [Ty] the freedom to be aggressive,” Bennett said. “That’s who he is. That’s how he’s wired.”

The Rams responded to regain the lead, 45-44, with 4:47 to play, but Jerome wasn’t finished.

He hit a falling away three-pointer, which — along with a pair of free throws from Guy — made it 49-45 with 4:16 to play.

After a couple of defensive stops, Diakite got to the foul line and knocked down two clutch free throws to make it 51-45 Virginia.

Hunter made two more free throws to make it 53-45 Cavaliers, but VCU responded with a three-pointer to cut Virginia’s lead to five with 1:58 left in the game.

Clark and Jerome iced out the game with two more pairs of free throws, and the final score was 57-49 Virginia.

“Everyone made timely plays,” Jerome said. “Right after I hit the three, Kihei got the 10-second call … Gritty win.”

Free-throw shooting and solid defense were critical in helping Virginia stave off the upset bid. The Cavaliers shot 26-30 from the foul line and forced the Rams to shoot under 30 percent from the field.

Clark was a big part of the defensive effort. Playing with a cast on his left wrist, Clark held Rams’ leading scorer, junior guard Marcus Evans, to one field goal on the day.

“His heart and his ability … How can you not get excited if you’re behind that defensively?” Bennett said.

Clark will undergo surgery on his wrist Monday, and his playing status for Virginia’s next game, Dec. 19 against South Carolina, is unclear.

Despite the poor shooting night, the Cavaliers were able to pull out yet another win at home, and remain undefeated going into the finals break.

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