CHARLOTTESVILLE — So much adrenaline pumped through Devon Hall it had him bouncing on his toes, the gold stripes on his shoes glittering in the light, even as he stood back and watched a teammate take a shot. He couldn’t quite contain himself — it was his second-half three-pointer, after all, that finally got a sleepy Sunday crowd at John Paul Jones Arena jumping, and it had the added bonus of kicking off a 10-point run that finally gave Virginia some breathing room against Wake Forest.
After a contentious 30 minutes against the Demon Deacons, the Cavaliers built a lead they could hang on to. Virginia cruised late to a 79-62 win that didn’t quite solve lingering defensive issues, but acted as a soothing balm to a wounded Cavaliers squad nonetheless.
“After the Pitt game I kept saying, ‘too loose, too loose. It needs to tighten up,’” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “It wasn’t perfectly tight today, but the bolt maybe turned a half a turn. So now we’ve got to turn it a little more, and that’s a process that takes a lot of work.”
Virginia had been hurt, badly, in a loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday in which the Cavaliers were outrebounded 42-24 and allowed the most points scored by an opponent since 2013. Back at home days later, the Cavaliers came out more aggressive on the glass, edging Wake Forest 37-32, and shot 49.1 percent from the field. They held Wake Forest to its second-lowest-scoring game this year and held the Demon Deacons to just one made three-pointer in the second half.
Senior point guard London Perrantes led three Virginia players in double figures with a season-high 24 points, followed by Hall’s 13 points and team-high eight rebounds. Sunday was the fourth consecutive ACC game Hall has scored in double figures.
Marial Shayok, injecting extra physicality into the Cavaliers’ lineup with his first start this season, added 17 points and made 4 of 7 attempts from the free throw line, which Virginia had struggled to even get to before Sunday.
“He comes in and looks to really score the ball, and we need that aggressiveness,” junior forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “We’ve been mix-matching lineups for the past couple games, and I’m just happy for him. I like when he scores. That’s my favorite.”
Virginia (12-3, 2-2 ACC) and Wake Forest (10-6, 1-3) stayed within single digits of each other until the run Hall initiated with his three-pointer with just over nine minutes remaining. A major sequence for center Jack Salt, in which he grabbed an offensive rebound off his own missed shot for a forceful put-back dunk then sunk two free throws, made it a 7-0 run for the Cavaliers.
Hall then added another free throw, and Perrantes capped the scoring run with a layup.
The win was the Cavaliers’ first ACC victory at John Paul Jones Arena this season after they dropped their conference home opener to Florida State.
“Big time plays like that, especially when Jack went in and dunked, or those plays where the rebound’s going loose and somehow Isaiah’s the only one rebounding and then he tips it out — big plays like that just boosts our energy up, just gets us going,” junior guard Darius Thompson said.
Thompson would know. He hit back-to-back three-pointers with about 12 minutes to go that were reminiscent of his three-pointer that gave Virginia a last-second win at Wake Forest last season.
The consecutive shots were the first real sign of offensive rhythm for the Cavaliers. They had come out of halftime trailing by one point, a deficit Perrantes wiped away with a layup followed by a three-pointer, but the Demon Deacons responded with two consecutive layups to regain their lead.
“It was a step in the right direction, and a win in the ACC is a win in the ACC this year,” Bennett said. “You take it and you move forward.”
Virginia now has several days off before traveling to play Clemson on Saturday, a game that has Bennett dreading a win in Monday’s national championship game for the Tigers’ football team. The subsequent celebration would make for “not the friendliest of environments,” Bennett said with a smile.