ATLANTA — Georgia Tech’s fifth turnover of the second half and 14th of the game nestled right in the hands of Kyle Guy. There was about 60 feet separating him from Virginia’s basket. But it was 60 feet of open, unguarded court.
It was just part of the night, Georgia Tech basically handing UVa the basketball. In the first half, Ty Jerome had a coast-to-coast steal and basket. Early in the second half, Georgia Tech literally threw a ball right into Wilkins’ hands in the flow of its offense.
On this play, the 14th turnover of 18, Guy took the ball and drove to the unimpeded basket. It put Virginia up by 15. The next GT turnover would come 20 seconds later. It was just that kind of night, as No. 2 Virginia went on the road and thumped Georgia Tech, 64-48, to improve to 17-1 and 6-0 in the ACC.
“Some of our turnovers were unforced,” GT head coach Josh Pastner said. “There was that one Ben [Lammers] just threw it to the other team. The color of the jerseys are blue and gold. So I don’t know who he was throwing it to.”
De’Andre Hunter’s first-half boost off the bench has become thematic for the Cavaliers. He scored 10 points in the first half, capped off by a four-point play from the corner with 0.5 seconds left.
As Guy struggled, air-balling his corner 3-point, and Jack Salt struggled to convert on his second chance opportunities, Hunter was effective and efficient.
The true reason for the first-half lead, though, was an eight-minute shutout stretch by the Virginia defense. The Yellow Jackets started the game with a 2-0 lead. Even as UVa only had eight points over those eight minutes — it included five GT turnovers — and it was enough to seize control of the game.
“It held us in there,” UVa head coach Tony Bennett said of his defense. “I didn’t realize that we held them, they had two points (during a 7:50 span). I thought that held us in there. Sometimes you’ve just got to hang tough on your defense until the offense gets rolling.”
Hunter was that offensive spark. And it was rewarded when he took the court with the starting lineup in the second half. He immediately tipped in a shot to put UVa up by 11 — the lead eventually extended out to as many as 18. Hunter scored 17 points. Jerome added 12 points. Guy had an inefficient 11 points.
Hunter’s four-point play extended a five-point lead to nine. And that was as close as Georgia Tech would get.
“I couldn’t really see it go in, because they fouled me,” Hunter said. “But it did go in, so I was happy.”
For as celebrated as Virginia’s season has been — beating in-state foe VCU, crushing rival Virginia Tech, winning a tournament in Brooklyn, and running through the rest of the competition with relative ease — there was one thing it hadn’t done. Before tonight, Virginia hadn’t won a true road game out outside of the commonwealth. But Cavaliers checked that off the list Thursday night, too.
With just under five minutes to play, and UVa leading by 16 points, Georgia Tech’s Tadric Jackson drove the ball to the rim and dribbled it right off his knee. Either upset with himself or upset with the call, he argued with the referees, seemingly talking to himself as he walked up the court.
It was another turnover, another empty trip down. The Georgia Tech crowd was loud and sold out. As the Cavaliers rise through the ranks of college basketball and stay undefeated in the ACC, they’ll get every team’s best shot and biggest crowd.
As assistant coach Jason Williford walked onto the auxiliary court in the depths of McCamish Pavilion, where players and coaches met family and friends, someone made a joke to him about it being easy.
“I don’t know about easy,” he said.
“It’s going to get harder as the season progresses,” Bennett said in his press conference. “The competition, the road games, the home games. You can’t be oblivious to that fact.”
It might not be easy for Virginia right now. Winning on the road in the ACC is tough. So is winning at home. But you could forgive those watching if they think it’s easy. Virginia is making it look that way.