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No. 9 men’s basketball defeats Columbia 60-42

The Cavaliers hold their third straight opponent under 45 points

<p>Senior guard Braxton Key was stellar on the glass for the Cavaliers, grabbing nine rebounds.&nbsp;</p>

Senior guard Braxton Key was stellar on the glass for the Cavaliers, grabbing nine rebounds. 

The No. 9 Virginia men’s basketball team squared off against Columbia Saturday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena, winning 60-42. The Cavaliers (3-0, 1-0 ACC) downed the Lions (1-3, 0-0 Ivy League) on the shoulders of an outstanding performance by junior forward Jay Huff, who had 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks. 

Junior transfer guard Tomas Woldetensae kicked off the scoring for Virginia with a contested three-pointer off the dribble. This ignited a 10-0 scoring run for Virginia, with four points coming from senior forward Mamadi Diakite in the paint against Columbia sophomore forward Ike Nweke.

After a Lions timeout, Columbia senior guard Jake Killingsworth ended a near five-minute scoring drought with a driving layup, making the score 10-2. Following two missed free throws by Diakite, Columbia senior guard Mike Smith hit a tough fadeaway jumper, and Nweke hit one of two free-throws to cut Virginia’s lead to five.

The game continued to be a defensive battle, as Columbia committed three turnovers — including one shot-clock violation — and was blocked three times by junior forward Jay Huff in the span of three minutes. The Cavaliers similarly were unable to score, as both teams combined for just two points in three minutes with Virginia holding a 15-7 advantage.

With nine minutes left, sophomore guard Kihei Clark sent a high pass to Huff, who connected on a highlight reel dunk. Smith responded with a three-pointer from the top of the arc, but Clark answered with a three-pointer of his own, putting the Cavaliers up 22-10.

A Nweke layup and three-pointer by Lions junior forward Randy Brumant gave Columbia some life with five minutes to play in the half, but Diakite quelled any possible run with his first three-pointer of the afternoon to give Virginia a 10-point lead at 25-15. 

This ignited a 9-2 run for the Cavaliers to finish the first half, including another Huff alley-oop off a Clark pass. With the run, the Cavaliers headed into the locker room up 31-17.

The Lions shot just 25 percent from the field and 20 percent from the three-point arc in the first half, while Virginia converted 46 percent of its field goals and 38 percent of its three-pointers.

The Cavaliers went on a 13-6 run in the first 7:06 of the second half, led by six points from senior guard Braxton Key. As the Lions attempted to claw back, Virginia continued to have an answer both offensively and defensively.

“[Virginia’s defense is] extremely physical, and I don’t think until you play them you actually understand that,” Columbia Coach Jim Engles said. “It’s very hard to get in the lane against them,”.

Smith and Nweke kept the Cavaliers’ lead from getting too out of hand. The duo combined for 23 of Columbia’s 42 points, as they fought throughout the afternoon to keep the Lions in the game.

“[Smith is] so clever with the ball,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “He puts pressure on your defense. You better figure out what you’re gonna do when either he’s coming off handoffs or ball screens.” 

Huff continued to dominate. He converted a dunk, and Diakite scored four straight points to make the score 55-29, the Cavaliers’ biggest lead of the game.

With just under seven minutes to play, redshirt freshman center Francisco Caffaro made his Virginia debut. After a foul and turnover, Caffaro recovered and drew a foul in paint and subsequently made one of his two free throws for his first point in a Cavalier uniform.

After Huff’s dunk, and with Huff, Diakite and Clark out of the game, the Lions went on a 13-5 run, but it was too little, too late. The Cavaliers cruised to victory.

Despite the win, the Cavaliers struggled at times from the perimeter, shooting 41 percent from the field and 33 percent from three. Nevertheless, Virginia put together a strong team performance, featuring three double-digit scorers while holding Columbia to 42 points and 29 percent shooting.

“I think there were really good stretches today of defense and really good stretches of offense,” Bennett said. “We just want to keep making it hard for opponents to score against us. I think you see at times, when we’ve gotten in trouble, we’ve been able to block some shots at the rim.”

Next up for Virginia is Vermont Tuesday night at home. The game is slated to start at 7 p.m.