CHARLOTTESVILLE — Love poured out of the stands at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday, beginning with a standing ovation 15 minutes before tip-off when London Perrantes stepped on court for his senior day ceremony, three younger brothers by his side and his misty-eyed mother Karina’s hand clasped tightly in his own.
It continued flowing all afternoon for the Virginia men’s basketball team’s only scholarship senior, gushing from all corners as fans roared not just for Perrantes’s four three-pointers but also for his most mundane moves. It filled up the arena and had nowhere else to go but the back tunnels that led to the locker rooms, where Perrantes and Virginia Coach Tony Bennett walked arm in arm at the end of the Cavaliers’ 67-42 rout of Pittsburgh.
“When he came out of the game,” Bennett said, “I embraced him and said, ‘We’ve had a lot of good times on this court, haven’t we?’ and he said ‘Yes, we have.’ ”
Saturday was Perrantes’s 130th career start at Virginia, where he first appeared in the starting lineup three games into his freshman year. The point guard’s contributions are almost unparalleled in Bennett’s tenure. The senior has the program on the verge of its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since the year after the Ralph Sampson era ended in the early 1980s. Saturday’s victory was his 106th at Virginia, five short of the program record.
As he waited until all of his other players had passed to walk off the floor with Perrantes, Bennett thought of his own senior day, when his father and coach, Dick Bennett, performed the same ritual.
“That’s the last thing we did my last game at Green Bay,” Bennett said. “And I waited for London and I said to him, ‘I want to walk off this court with you, with my arm around you.’ . . . That brought me great joy to be able to do that, just as a memory of mine from my playing days and to do that with London. Probably meant more to me than to him.”
“It was cool,” Perrantes said. “Walking off the floor with Coach Bennett was huge. He gave me this opportunity; without him, I wouldn’t be here.”
The senior led the 23rd-ranked Cavaliers (22-9, 11-7 ACC) with 22 points. The win was the Cavaliers’ third straight and locked them into the No. 6 seed for the ACC tournament, which will begin Tuesday in Brooklyn. The Cavaliers have a bye into the second round and will open play at 9 p.m. Wednesday against Georgia Tech or Pittsburgh.
“It’s high,” Perrantes said when asked about the team’s confidence looking ahead to the conference tournament. “I don’t think anyone wants to play us right now.”
That was evident in the plodding gait of Pittsburgh (15-16, 4-14), which on Saturday hardly resembled the team that overpowered Virginia, 88-76, in overtime Jan. 4.
Jamel Artis and Michael Young, who scored a combined 43 points against the Cavaliers in the teams’ previous meeting, were held out of the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s game after they were late for the team’s morning meeting.
The Panthers suffered for it, limping to an 0-for-11 start from the field. Pittsburgh’s first field goal came with nine minutes left until halftime, and it trailed 32-15 at intermission, the fewest first-half points by any Virginia opponent this season.
Young finished with a team-high 14 points, and Artis had four.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, had no trouble running their offense. Virginia shot 43.5 percent from the field to Pittsburgh’s 33.3 percent and 50 percent from beyond the three-point line to the Panthers’ 20 percent. Pittsburgh gave up 27 points off 15 turnovers.
Freshman point guard Ty Jerome was the only other Cavalier to score in double figures, adding 13 on 5-for-9 shooting, including three three-pointers. In a bit of symbolism Perrantes couldn’t ignore, it was Jerome who fed Perrantes the ball on the senior’s second-to-last three-pointer of the night and freshman guard Kyle Guy who assisted Perrantes’s final shot, also a three-pointer, before Bennett pulled him.
“As Ty passed me the ball and I shot it, I was like, ‘This is weird. I think it’s my time to go now,’ ” Perrantes said. But he had changed his mind by the time he met his successor at midcourt for a long embrace.
“I said, ‘It’s not yours yet. It’s not your program yet. I still got some games left to play.’ ”