Following a 10-day break for exams, No. 9 Virginia looks to improve its shooting grades when the Cavaliers host Stony Brook on Wednesday night in Charlottesville, Va.
The Cavaliers (8-1) haven’t played since a 56-47 win over North Carolina on Dec. 8. They will put their 21-game nonconference home winning streak on the line against the Seawolves (7-5).
Stony Brook has played twice since Virginia’s win against the Tar Heels, losing road games by single digits at Hofstra on Dec. 10 and at Providence on Saturday.
Rust is normally a concern after a long layoff, but the Cavaliers were hardly a well-oiled machine to begin with. The defending national champions are shooting 39.4 percent overall and 24.9 percent from 3-point distance, down dramatically from last year’s clips of 47.4 percent and 39.5 percent.
Defense is once again the team’s calling card, as Virginia is 7-0 this year when holding opponents to fewer than 50 points.
“That’s who we are right now,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “We have to fight and scrap and play with guts. Sometimes we have, sometimes we haven’t.”
The Cavaliers only shot 32.7 percent (16 of 49) against the Tar Heels but scored 14 points off 12 turnovers and limited North Carolina to just one 3-pointer on 14 attempts.
Senior forward Mamadi Diakite leads Virginia with 13.2 points per game and shoots 47.6 percent (10 of 21) from 3-point range, and 7-foot-1 junior Jay Huff contributes 9.2 points on 59.3 percent shooting. The rest of the team is shooting a combined 33.2 percent from the field and only 21 percent (29 of 138) from behind the arc.
“We show flashes of good and flashes of unsoundness,” Bennett said. “So you just keep putting your head down, and you show up every day and you work, win or lose, and try to move the needle for toughness and soundness.”
Stony Brook’s stinginess isn’t at Virginia’s level, but the Seawolves have played solid defense this season under first-year coach Geno Ford. Opponents are only shooting 38.9 percent from 2-point range, the fifth-best mark in the nation entering Monday’s action.
Three players are scoring in double figures for the Seawolves. Junior forward Elijah Olaniyi averages 19.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, senior guard Makale Foreman averages 14.2 points thanks to a team-high 36 3-pointers, and junior guard Andrew Garcia chips in 12.6 points and 6.4 boards.
Olaniyi scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the 82-78 loss at Providence, his sixth 20-point effort of the season.
Ford said he hopes Stony Brook’s tough nonconference schedule, which also includes a loss at Seton Hall on Nov. 9, will prepare them to battle Vermont for the America East title this season.
“We wanted to be challenged,” he said. “We wanted to put ourselves in as many of these situations as we could where we would have to battle and be challenged.”
Virginia senior Braxton Key (10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game) will miss his fourth consecutive game due to a broken wrist, but Bennett said “everything looks good so far” with Key’s rehab.
–Field Level Media