#4 Virginia Fights Off Tough VCU Squad, 57-49

VCU’s DeRiante Jenkins reaches in to foul Virginia’s Ty Jerome on a drive to the basket. Photo by John Markon

By Scott Ratcliffe

When the shots aren’t falling, you’ve just gotta keep shooting. Despite only making five shots from the field in the second half, No. 4 Virginia got three clutch buckets from junior guard Ty Jerome — part of a decisive 15-2 run in crunch time — and made the most of its trips to the charity stripe to pull away with a 57-49 win against visiting VCU on a snowy Sunday afternoon in Charlottesville.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Kyle Guy put up 13 of his team-high 15 points in the first half, while Jerome scored 11 of his 14 points in the second to carry the Cavaliers (9-0) to victory on a day when they made just 13 of 44 field-goal attempts (season-low 29.5 percent) but made up for it at the line, sinking 26 of 30 free throws.

Yes, you read that correctly — the ‘Hoos made twice as many free throws as field goals, in a game that featured six ties and 13 lead changes.

The Rams (7-3) came in with the fourth-best field-goal percentage defense in the country, and did all they could to disrupt UVA’s offensive flow. Mission accomplished for Mike Rhoades’ squad, who held the ‘Hoos to 3 for their first 13 shots to start the game.

“I thought that VCU did a terrific job of playing physical and making us shoot some contested shots,” said UVA coach Tony Bennett, who got his 227th win with the Cavaliers and 297th overall. “Their numbers are impressive, their field-goal percentage defense, and that is what they have been doing to people.

“I thought we were a little impatient and that a couple of times we turned it over when the game was just who was going to outlast who.”

VCU, which escaped John Paul Jones Arena with a win last time it entered in 2013, grabbed an early 6-2 lead, but as they did all afternoon, the Cavaliers punched back with an 11-3 run — capped by a Guy and-1 — despite the cold shooting.

Later in the half, Virginia scored seven unanswered — highlighted by a sweet double-clutch reverse by freshman guard Kihei Clark amongst the trees — to give UVA a 25-19 edge with four minutes left.

VCU leading scorer Marcus Evans made a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock to break a skid of six straight Ram misses and a scoring drought of over five minutes. That was Evans’ only basket of the game, as he missed on his nine other tries. Corey Douglas then dropped in an alley-oop pass to cut Virginia’s lead to one, 25-24, with 1:19 until halftime.

After misfiring on his first four attempts, Jerome finally got one to drop, a 3-ball from in front of the visitors’ bench with 47 ticks left, and then Guy was fouled with less than a second to go on a putback try and split a pair of freebies to give the ‘Hoos a 29-24 halftime lead.

Virginia shot just 8 for 23 over the opening 20 minutes and 3 for 10 from downtown, but held the Rams to 10-for-27 shooting and 2 for their last 10 of the half.

VCU came out hot to start the second half, as DeRiante Jenkins capped a 7-0 spurt to give the Rams a 31-29 edge less than two minutes in. Meanwhile, Virginia missed its first five of the half and 13 of its first 15 with the only two makes coming from Mamadi Diakite on consecutive possessions, and the Rams — who outscored UVA 20-10 in the paint and had 11 second-chance points on the day — held a 43-38 lead with 6:48 to play.

That’s when Jerome got hot. He scored on a strong take into the lane on the ensuing trip and then stepped back and nailed one from just inside the timeline to tie it up at 43-all.

“I was scanning around and trying a few too many things in the first half,” Bennett admitted, “and we tried different little actions and sets and I thought that we just needed to be more of who we are in the second half to give those guys a chance to move and get shots.

“Ty hit some shots and he was aggressive driving. You know that eventually you are going to get looks — it is hard to keep guys from getting open looks.”

After Clark (who earned another start) forced a 10-second backcourt violation to further stir up the JPJ crowd, Jerome found Jack Salt down low, who got fouled and split a pair of free throws to give the ‘Hoos their first lead in over five minutes.

After a Jenkins spinning shot fell, UVA rattled off nine in a row. The biggest blow for the Rams came when Guy was fouled away from the ball as Jerome released another long ball — the shot fell for 3, and Guy added two free throws for a crucial five-point swing to make it 49-45 with 4:17 remaining.

“Eventually one has to go down,” said Jerome. “I was missing everything in the first half and I missed a bunch more in the second half. I made two big ones also. Everyone made timely plays that factored into me getting looks.”

Added Guy of Jerome’s key sequence: “There he goes again. Like he said, everyone was making timely plays down the stretch. He is the captain and one of the better players on our team. I always have faith in him.”

That 3 turned out to be the last field goal Virginia would make, but the Wahoos nailed each of their final eight free-throw attempts to seal it.

In the second half, UVA made only 5 of 21 field-goal attempts but made 16 of 18 from the line, including the last 11. The Rams were 8 for 34 from the field in the second half, missing their last seven FGs (and 10 of their last 11) down the stretch.

Issac Vann was the only VCU player in double figures with 10 points. Marcus Santos-Silva added 8 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while Jenkins scored each of his 8 points after halftime.

“Credit to Coach Bennett and his team,” said Rhoades. “They have a great team. They held serve on their court. They did a great job down the stretch finding a way to win. I thought we beat ourselves down the stretch. We fouled too much, put them to the line and didn’t execute down the stretch. I thought those were the two biggest things of the game.”

Jerome led the ‘Hoos and tied a career high with eight rebounds to go with his three assists and two steals. Guy had six boards, while Salt added seven as the ‘Hoos outrebounded the Rams, 38-34. Guy and Jerome each finished the game 4 for 13 from the field.

De’Andre Hunter had a season-low 9 points on 1-of-6 shooting, but sank all seven of his free-throw attempts. It was the only time this year that Hunter did not reach double figures in the scoring category.

Clark, who sported a cast Sunday and will have surgery Monday on his left wrist, was just 1 for 5 on the day, but also finished with 9 points and four assists after going 7 for 7 from the line. He also once again did a great job defensively on Evans, including knocking a ball loose in traffic during a critical VCU trip in the closing minutes which resulted in a held ball and possession arrow pointing Virginia’s way.

Diakite and Braxton Key combined for 9 points and 9 rebounds off the bench.

The Cavaliers, who are now 81-2 under Bennett when holding opponents under the 50-point mark, will return to action after exams on Dec. 19 at South Carolina.



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