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Top-seeded Virginia defeats Gardner-Webb 71-56 in first round of NCAA Tournament

Cavaliers clear first hurdle of tourney with dominant second-half performance

Junior guard De'Andre Hunter led Virginia with 23 points in their victory over Gardner-Webb.
Junior guard De'Andre Hunter led Virginia with 23 points in their victory over Gardner-Webb.

After last year’s “shocker of all shockers” — No. 16 UMBC taking down No. 1 Virginia in the NCAA Tournament — the Cavaliers came out and proved history wouldn’t be repeated as they defeated Gardner-Webb in the opening round. With the win, Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC) now advances to play another game Sunday. 

While the Cavaliers came away with the win, things didn’t look promising in the opening minutes of the game. Virginia committed five straight turnovers, falling behind 8-4 right away. The Runnin’ Bulldogs continued to grow their lead over Virginia, increasing it to 20-10 with 10:57 to go in the half. The lead got as large as 28-14, which tied the largest deficit the Cavaliers have faced all season. A three-pointer from junior guard Kyle Guy with 6:26 to play in the half sparked a 7-0 run for the team that helped Virginia close in on Garden-Webb’s lead. The half finished out with the Runnin’ Bulldogs up 36-30, never having trailed in the half. 

The Cavaliers struggled on both ends of the court in the first 20 minutes of play. Offensively, they shot 50 percent on field goals, 22.2 percent from three and committed an uncharacteristic eight turnovers. Guy was the leading scorer for the team with eight, while sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter added six points and junior guard Ty Jerome had five.

Meanwhile, Gardner-Webb shot 53.6 percent and 44.4 percent from three. Senior forward DJ Laster had a team-high 10 first-half points on five-for-nine shooting. Freshman guard Jose Perez was just behind Laster with eight points, and senior guard David Efianayi had six points in the first half. 

Trailing by six at the start of the second half, an energized Virginia came out and claimed the lead for the first time all day, going up 39-38 after just a few minutes. With 11:25 to play, the Cavaliers’ lead grew to double figures as they locked in on defense and started to hit their stride on offense. Virginia didn’t slow down from there, holding onto its lead for the rest of the game to win 71-56.

The Cavaliers improved its shooting to finish out with 51.9 percent shooting on field goals and 30.4 percent from beyond the arc. They also dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Runnin’ Bulldogs 35-21. 

Three Virginia players hit double figures in the win, with Hunter leading the way. He ended up with 23 points, 17 of which came in the second-half. Junior forward Mamadi Diakite also came up big for the Cavaliers, taking advantage of his size matchup underneath the basket as he added 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting. He also had a team-high nine rebounds. Jerome added 13 points to the scoreboard to go along with his six assists. 

Virginia also cleaned things up on the defensive end, forcing Gardner-Webb to finish with 16 turnovers. With the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ scoring slowing down in the second-half, the No. 16 seed posted 44 percent overall shooting and 39.1 percent shooting from three. 

The Cavaliers will now prepare to face Oklahoma in the next round of the NCAA Tournament, which will take place Sunday. The Sooners are the No. 9 seed in the South region and upset No. 8 Ole Miss to reach the second round. The time for the game has not yet been announced. 

A previous version of this article stated that the Cavaliers would advance to play Saturday. It has been changed to reflect that they will play Sunday.