CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Final exams are approaching at the University of Virginia, and John Paul Jones Arena will be much quieter over the next couple of weeks. But on Saturday afternoon there was a festive atmosphere inside JPJ as the UVA men's basketball team stayed unbeaten with a 75-54 victory over Lehigh.
The final three of the 18th-ranked Cavaliers' 30 field goals came on dunks off lob passes, to the delight of the matinee crowd. UVA's head coach, Tony Bennett, didn't object to the slams, but he was more impressed with two numbers that stood out on the box score: his team's 21 assists and six turnovers. No UVA player had more than two turnovers Saturday. Three Wahoos had at least four assists each, led by graduate transfer Nigel Johnson, with a career-high eight. "It's an unselfish group, and you can see that," Bennett said.
Johnson, who previously played at Kansas State and Rutgers, is in his first season at UVA. Before Saturday, he'd never had more than four assists in a game for the `Hoos, but against Lehigh (4-4) he set up teammates for jumpers and dunks and layups. "I was just seeing the plays develop before they happened," Johnson said. "The game was moving a lot slower. It got to a point where I was just feeding everybody. It was so exciting that I didn't really even want to shoot it any more. I was just looking for the extra pass and trying to set people up and just taking what was there."
The Cavaliers (8-0) are not known for pushing the ball in transition, but they scored 12 fast-break points Saturday. Johnson played a key role in several of those baskets. No. 23 has "the speed and the quickness that kind of energizes us," Bennett said.
When Johnson "can get in transition and make plays, that's when he's at his best," UVA guard Kyle Guy said. Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins said the Cavaliers are looking to run more this season. Point guard London Perrantes, now a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was "not the fastest dude, so we played at his pace," Wilkins said, with a huge smile. "This year, we're trying to get out and run a little bit more with Nigel, Devon [Hall] and Kyle pushing the ball."
A 6-2 sophomore, Guy needed five stitches on his shooting hand to close a cut he suffered in practice Friday. He played with his right hand taped Saturday, but that didn't deter him against the Mountain Hawks. He was 7 for 12 from the floor -- 5 for 9 from beyond the 3-point arc -- and scored a team-high 21 points. He also had three of the Cavaliers' 11 steals. "He was moving well and he had his rhythm," Bennett said of Guy. "He's a weapon, for sure, and a threat when he's on the floor."
Also scoring in double figures for UVA, which shot 51.7 percent from the floor, were Wilkins (14 points) and fifth-year senior guard Devon Hall (11). Wilkins and Hall combined for 11 rebounds and four steals as well. The Cavaliers weren't as suffocating as usual on defense -- Lehigh made 10 of 24 shots from beyond the arc -- but they forced 17 turnovers and turned them into 24 points. "We had had a lot of breakdowns," Guy said, "but we tried to be in the gap and anticipate, which we work on every day in practice, and I think that showed."
UVA's reserves outscored their Lehigh counterparts 22-10. Redshirt sophomore Mamadi Diakite and redshirt freshman swingman De'Andre Hunter had six points apiece off the bench for the Cavaliers, and Johnson and redshirt freshman forward Jay Huff contributed five each.
The 6-7 Hunter, who was celebrating his birthday, also had four assists, three rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot in his 22 minutes. One of his assists came on a less-than-perfect lob to the 6-9 Diakite, who wasn't fazed by the high pass. Diakite soared to snare the ball with his right hand and then slammed it through the hoop to make it 75-52.
His message to Hunter, Bennett said, was to "be as great as you can defensively, and let it come offensively. We got him in the post on a couple actions. He established it first defensively and did some good things. Again, his length and his ability to guard different guys helps us out. I thought it was another step in the right direction for Dre."
© 2017 WVEC-TV