It was a good old-fashioned rock fight at John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday evening.
The Virginia men’s basketball team was missing two standout scorers, and it showed in the team’s 46-26 win over Maine.
With guards Braxton Key and Kody Stattmann both sidelined for Virginia, the Cavaliers’ offense looked sluggish against the Black Bears. Luckily for UVa, its defense played at its usual level, which proved to be more than enough on Wednesday.
The 26 points allowed tied for the fewest allowed by UVa in the shot clock era.
“Our defense has been our anchor,” Virginia forward Jay Huff said. “Whether or not we’re making shots, we’ll be hopefully getting stops.”
Key, a senior, is out indefinitely for Virginia after undergoing wrist surgery Tuesday. Stattmann remains sidelined with an illness. Key came into the game second on the team in scoring with 10.3 points per game. While Stattmann was off to a slow scoring start this year, he’s a solid shooter and scoring threat. Justin McKoy, Jayden Nixon and Chase Coleman were among the young players who saw playing time with Key and Stattmann out.
Despite another subpar offensive showing that saw UVa shoot 38.6%, Maine couldn’t buy a basket against the Pack Line defense.
“I’m so proud of my team,” Maine head coach Richard Barron said. “I thought they battled. They just battled, and we just couldn’t make shots.”
The Black Bears used a four-point play with 10 seconds left in the first half to cut the deficit to 24-14. Prior to the basket, Maine had just 10 points to go with 10 first-half turnovers. In the opening 20 minutes, Maine made four field goals and three free throws. The Black Bears had 17 missed shots and 10 turnovers in that same span.
An inability to drive into the lane hurt the Black Bears, as 16 of their 21 shots came from beyond the arc. Only three attempts went in.
The second half didn’t prove much better. Maine finished the game with 26 on 18.6% shooting, including a 19.2% clip beyond the arc. The Black Bears turned the ball over 21 times.
With Key out, Mamadi Diakite and Huff stepped up offensively. Huff opened the game by scoring Virginia’s first seven points after rolling his ankle on the opening tip. Diakite added 10 in the first half, including a monstrous dunk after a steal to put UVa up 22-10. Diakite added a layup a minute later to go on a 7-0 run of his own.
Diakite scored a quick five points early in the second half as well, including a two-handed slam off a nifty pass from Kihei Clark. The guard stole the ball near half court and faked out a defender in the paint before spinning toward the middle of the court and finding Diakite for the easy jam. Diakite finished the game with 15 points and seven rebounds. Huff added 13 points and five rebounds. Clark also performed well, scoring nine points while shooting 3-of-4 on 3-point shots.
Clark, Diakite and Huff were the main offensive bright spots for the Cavaliers, who face tougher competition in the next two games. A road trip to Purdue comes on Wednesday, and the Cavaliers return to Charlottesville next Sunday for an ACC game against North Carolina. Subpar offensive showings could prove costly against those two squads.
On the bright side, Virginia’s defense is playing at an elite level through the team’s first seven games. Only Vermont, which scored 55 in a loss to the Cavaliers, has surpassed the 50-point threshold. With Maine’s performance, three teams have been held under 35 points this season.
UVa’s defense continues to excel, but the offense continues to sputter. With Virginia’s strength of schedule set to drastically increase, the offense needs improvement.
Defense remains the team’s calling card, though.
“If ever there’s a team that has to be hungry to defend, no matter how hard it is, and that’s where the heart and the effort comes in, hungry to rebound and be kind of hard rock when you’re in a stance and beat screens, it’s us,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We have to. That’s right now,what is our chance.”