NEW YORK — Kyle Guy has played on one of New York City’s biggest basketball stages before, in high school a few times when the Indiana native schlepped out to Brooklyn to improve his game during a coach’s camp. But the city’s spotlight has never been as bright as it was Wednesday for the Virginia freshman, and Guy made the most of the opportunity.
Playing in his first ACC tournament game, Guy shined as No. 6 seed Virginia beat Pittsburgh, 75-63, to advance to the quarterfinals for the sixth straight year. The Cavaliers meet No. 3 seed Notre Dame at 9 p.m. Thursday at Barclays Center. Virginia beat the Fighting Irish, 71-54, in January in South Bend, Ind.
Guy had a career-high 20 points, including 4 of 6 from beyond the three-point line, to pace Virginia (22-9), which received significant contributions from up and down the roster. The Cavaliers, who beat this same Pittsburgh team by 25 less than a week ago, led almost the entire game.
“Kyle is through the roof,” teammate London Perrantes said. “You don’t have to worry about that. He has confidence in his game. I think we all have confidence in his game. Shoot the ball.”
The Panthers fell to 16-17, their season likely over.
Perrantes had 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Freshman guard Ty Jerome, a Westchester County, N.Y., native playing at Barclays Center for the first time, added 11 points, including three three-pointers.
“They made some big shots, and actually, defensively we’re solid,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said of his team’s freshman guards. “But they’ve done that at different times through the year.”
Pittsburgh’s top scorers Jamel Artis and Michael Young did their parts, combining for 30 points, but 10 Panthers turnovers proved costly to their comeback bid.
Virginia also out-rebounded Pittsburgh, 30-27, thanks to junior forward Isaiah Wilkins’s eight rebounds and Jerome’s seven.
The freshman has impressed Bennett on defense of late, particularly for a relative newcomer to Bennett’s pack-line system. Both he and Guy had been critical parts of the Cavaliers’ three-game win streak that closed out the regular season.
The turning point for both freshmen came against North Carolina State on Feb. 25. Virginia arrived in Raleigh on the tail end of a four-game losing streak and mired in a team-wide shooting slump. The Cavaliers also weren’t healthy — Wilkins had strep throat, junior guard Darius Thompson was running a fever, and center Jack Salt had a strained back. Bennett had little choice but to start Guy and get Jerome on the floor as much as possible.
“I was going to actually start Darius, but the plan was to go in that direction to get them more minutes,” Bennett said in Raleigh. “They were forced into it.”
Under that pressure, Jerome and Guy delivered. The latter made just his second start at N.C. State, played a career-high 35 minutes, and came out the other side with 19 points including five three pointers that helped lift Virginia out of its shooting slump. He sunk five threes again two days later en route to a 17-point performance against North Carolina.
Jerome, in his first career start, played 23 minutes against the Wolfpack and had a defensive coming of age in which he grabbed six rebounds, in part filling in for Wilkins, who played reduced minutes through his illness. Like Guy, Jerome earned another chance to impress at Virginia’s season finale in Pittsburgh. Against the Panthers he looked every bit Perrantes’s successor, and scored 13 points.
Bennett made it clear after the first win over Pittsburgh: Guy and Jerome hadn’t just been the backup option in the final two games of the season, they earned their minutes.
“I just thought it was time,” Bennett said. “I think they know they have to defend, they have to take care of the ball, and they’ve grown in their game and their understanding. Hopefully they’re fresher now, I didn’t play them as much, so now they’ve got their legs and they’re ready to go at the end of the year.”