MINNEAPOLIS — With six points in the final seven seconds, Kyle Guy got the headlines Saturday for punching Virginia’s ticket to its first national championship game in program history.
However, it was Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter who were the architects of the Cavaliers’ latest second-half comeback and both proved once again why they’re seen as potential first-round NBA draft picks.
For the fifth time in the past seven games, Virginia was behind at halftime. Auburn went into the locker room with a 31-28 lead, but Hunter quickly made that evaporate.
In the span of less than two minutes, he made a nice baseline move to bring the Cavaliers within one, earned a pair of free throws (both of which he missed) and spun away from a defender and got a floater to drop to put UVa up, 32-31.
Hunter scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half, and he finished with five rebounds and two blocked shots. Former Virginia player Damin Altizer understands why many see Hunter as a top-10 pick.
“He was 72nd or 73rd in his class coming out of high school, so he was never a guy who from day one people said ‘Here’s the ball. We want you to go be a lottery pick, and you’re going to make every play,’” said Altizer, who is the head boys basketball coach at St. Anne’s-Belfield in Charlottesville and has worked as a personal trainer with Hunter and Jerome for the past three years.
“[Hunter] has that calm, cool demeanor. He never gets rattled,” Altizer continued. “And he basically defends one through four and can switch onto anybody, which is crazy at his height and length.”
Jerome led the Cavaliers Saturday with 21 points. He contorted his body in an awkward angle and hit a running floater to pad their second-half lead. He answered just about every shot the Tigers hit down the stretch and added nine rebounds and six assists to his stat line. That versatility is why many mock drafts have him as a late first-round pick.
“A lot of teams see that he can be a 10-to-12-year NBA backup because he is 6-5 and he shoots it so well,” Altizer said. “He just has command on the floor. He never really gets sped up. He does all the little things well, he’s a coach on the floor and he’s the epitome of what you want in a lead guard.”
As Jerome and Hunter approach what is likely the last college game of their careers Monday against Texas Tech in U.S. Bank Stadium, they can think of a no more fitting end than to head to the league as national champions.