Cavaliers breathe easier after they snap a four-game slide
VIRGINIA 70, N.C. STATE 55
raleigh, n.c. — London Perrantes looked down at his open palms after hitting his first threepointer of the game Saturday. North Carolina State called a 30second timeout just after his shot went in, giving the Cavaliers a 13-point lead with more than five minutes left until halftime, and Virginia’s senior point guard took a few of those seconds to stare. The relief on his face was visible from across the court.
“Finally,” Perrantes thought at the time. “It was good to see it go down, for sure.”
Virginia breathed a deep sigh of relief Saturday as it exorcised its shooting demons and snapped a four-game losing streak with a 70-55 win over the Wolfpack at PNC Arena. It had been almost three weeks since the No. 18 Cavaliers (19-9, 9-7 ACC) played this freely, and Perrantes wasn’t the only satisfied player.
Virginia took advantage of one of the loosest defenses in the ACC to hit 11 of 16 three-pointers and shoot 48.9 percent overall. During their skid, the Cavaliers shot 35.1 percent from the field, made 24 percent of their three-pointers and, despite two overtime games, averaged 58 points as postgame frustration became the norm in the locker room.
On Saturday, Virginia was all smiles.
“It was really satisfying to see shots like that,” junior guard Devon Hall said. “I think it helps. It helps guys’ confidence to be able to see one go in.”
“It was back to normal, guys goofing around, joking, stuff like that,” junior forward Isaiah Wilkins chimed in from down the hall. “We kind of got a monkey off our back.”
Freshman guard Kyle Guy led the resurgence against the Wolfpack (15-15, 4-13). He finished with 19 points, including 5-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc, jumpstarting the Cavaliers’ offense in the first half as Perrantes took a facilitator role. Hall added 18 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field.
Perrantes finished with a season-high 10 assists, and settling back into his old role as primary distributor seemed to help the senior get out of his recent shooting funk. He set a languid pace on offense from the start, often barely jogging the ball across halfcourt, and he made 5 of 10 from the floor for 16 points. He was 3 for 5 from the three-point line, the most he has made since an overtime loss at Virginia Tech earlier this month.
“You have to be able to put the blinders on and say, ‘I’m just going to keep plugging, find different ways to impact,’ ” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said of his point guard. “That’s why I liked him creating, him guarding [Dennis Smith Jr.], then making the big shots. You just keep taking them, if they’re good shots, without second guessing yourself.”
The win was the Cavaliers’ 10th straight against the Wolfpack in the regular season. Smith, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard who is considered a potential top-five pick in this year’s NBA draft, led N.C. State with 13 points, nearly six below his average, and missed 10 of 14 shots from the field. The Wolfpack had little inside presence, even when Virginia used a four-guard lineup. The Cavaliers managed 20 points in the paint to N.C. State’s 12.
The Cavaliers were forced to play small because of injury and illness. Wilkins came off the bench for his first time this season because of strep throat and scored just four points in 20 minutes. Center Jack Salt played 22 minutes despite a bad back, and guard Darius Thompson was held out of the game because of a fever.
Bennett and his players said the win felt like a reset — and not just because of a rejuvenated offense. Virginia’s defense returned to form as well, holding the Wolfpack to 32.1 percent shooting from the field and 25.9 percent on three-pointers.
Bennett spoke often during the losing streak about his team’s struggle to play up to the program’s basic defensive expectations, but Saturday, the Cavaliers were pleased.
“We did get shots — but the biggest thing was we kind of stifled them on the defensive end,” Hall said. “We really kept them out of the lane, which was really satisfying to see.”
The Cavaliers missed nine of their first 12 shots Saturday until Guy snapped them out it with four three-pointers in the final 11 minutes before halftime.
His first three-pointer set off a chain reaction, and another from Hall with 9:23 left in the first half was all the Cavaliers needed to kick off a 15-0 run and take hold of the game for good. It was at that point — before the 14-point lead at intermission, before a 19-point lead in the second half — that Virginia felt like things were back to normal.
“We were in the huddle,” Guy said with a grin, “and I just looked around and said, ‘I think we got our swagger back.’ ”
Virginia junior Devon Hall, who scored 18 points and went 5 for 8 from the field, draws a foul on N.C. State’s Abdul-Malik Abu.