CHARLOTTESVILLE — Not that it needed a reminder of junior Ty Jerome’s value, but the third-ranked Virginia men’s basketball team got one anyway when the ailing point guard sat out against visiting Miami on Saturday afternoon.
With freshman Kihei Clark starting in his place, the result was stagnant possessions littered with turnovers, leaving the Cavaliers with their fewest points in an ACC game this season.
The 56-46 triumph came courtesy of perimeter defense and rebounding to keep Virginia (20-1, 8-1) in first place in the ACC, a half-game in front of No. 2 Duke ahead of the teams’ highly anticipated rematch next weekend.
“I think we had a hard time finding that balance — running our stuff hard, trusting the offense to produce a quality shot that we get to being where we have to force the action,” Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett said. “There’s a balance. You’ve still got to stay assertive, but we were unsound, and of course Ty helps us with that.
“His absence certainly showed.”
Jerome, the Cavaliers' third-leading scorer, sat out for the first time in 89 career games because of a sore back. His status remains day-to-day, according to Bennett.
The coach said Jerome began experiencing discomfort early in Tuesday night’s 66-65 overtime win at North Carolina State. He still played 41 minutes with 12 points and six assists but also four turnovers.
“Absolutely it felt a little off,” Virginia guard Kyle Guy said of playing without Jerome, “but I think it was a good test for our guys to try to fight through that.”
Absent Jerome’s steadying presence in the backcourt, Virginia committed 14 turnovers against the last-place Hurricanes (9-12, 1-8) in front of an announced crowd of 13,978.
Clark had six, the most for the Virginia, but added a team-high six assists in his fifth start this season. He also drew the defensive assignment against Miami’s leading scorer Chris Lykes, a former Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year from Gonzaga.
Lykes led the Hurricanes with 16 points and did not commit a turnover.
“Regarding Kihei, I think there were stretches of good ball,” Bennett said, “but he also looked like a freshman.”
Forward De’Andre Hunter led Virginia with 14 points and six rebounds, contributing to the Cavaliers’ 42-24 advantage in rebounding, including 12-5 offensively, against their undersized and undermanned opponent. The redshirt sophomore played all but 39 seconds of the game.
Virginia also limited the Hurricanes to 34 percent shooting, including 4 for 21 (19 percent) from beyond the arc.
Mamadi Diakite added 11 points and three of Virginia’s six blocks. The redshirt junior forward scored seven points in a row in the final 5½ minutes of the second half to help the Cavaliers extend their school record for consecutive 20-win seasons to eight.
Guy finished (10 points) with a second straight game of balky shooting, but his three-pointer with 7:47 to play blunted Miami’s run of five straight points that drew the Hurricanes within six. The junior guard and Cavaliers scoring leader this season went 4 of 15 from the field one game after shooting 3 for 11.
Virginia never led by fewer than double digits shortly after Guy’s three-pointer, his second of the game. He has made a three-pointer in every game this season.
“De’Andre Hunter is a top 50 player. He’s going to be an NBA first-round draft pick,” Hurricanes Coach Jim Larranaga said. “Kyle Guy is a McDonald’s all-American. They’ve got a lot of good players, and Ty Jerome didn’t even play today.”
Facing its fourth ranked opponent in five games, Miami played for the second time since the NCAA announced earlier this week that Dawon Hernandez must sit out the remainder of this season and 40 percent of next for receiving impermissible benefits from an agent. Hernandez, a junior forward who was second in scoring for the Hurricanes last season, had not played this season while going through an appeal process. He declared his intention to leave school and enter the NBA draft after the NCAA’s announcement.
The Cavaliers, meantime, weathered early miscues without Jerome, who averages 13 points and nearly five assists, to build a 28-21 lead at halftime despite six turnovers, including four from Clark.
Clark did assist on Braxton Key’s layup that produced a 10-point advantage with 19 seconds left before Lykes sank a contested three-pointer for Miami with one second to go, producing the final points of the first half.
“I had a couple of careless mistakes, so I’ve just got to clean those up,” Clark said. “Limit my turnovers.”