ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Defensive-minded Virginia showed it can play with a little offensive tempo, even using five guards to outpace UNC Wilmington.
London Perrantes scored 24 points, Marial Shayok added a career-high 23 off the bench and No. 5 seed Virginia rallied from 15 points down to beat 12th-seeded UNC Wilmington 76-71 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
Perrantes scored 19 points in the second half as the Cavaliers (23-10) got their slow-paced offense going. His biggest bucket was a driving bank shot with 1:37 remaining, which put the Cavs up 71-66.
UNCW (29-6) wouldn’t go away, though. Chris Flemmings drained a 3-pointer from the elbow and then Devontae Cacok hit a layup to make it 73-71 with less than a minute to play. But Shayok answered on the other end, banking in a runner that gave the Cavs some breathing room in the closing seconds.
“I just wanted to provide energy off the slow start,” Shayok said. “Personally, I just didn’t want to go out like that, and I knew my teammates didn’t either. So I just wanted to come out and provide what I could on both ends and just bring a spark.”
Virginia advanced past the first round for the fourth consecutive year and won as a No. 5 seed for the first time in four tries. The Cavs can thank Perrantes and Shayok for making it happen.
Perrantes was 9-of-14 shooting, and Shayok was 8 of 14. The guard duo set the pace late after Virginia trailed big.
The Cavaliers closed the first half with a 16-1 run that erased the double-digit deficit.
“In the game we tried everything to stop their run,” UNCW guard Ambrose Mosley said. “It’s hard because you want to win every game; especially having an easy lead like we did in the first half.”
UNCW was nearly perfect early, with Mosley, Denzel Ingram and Cacok hitting every shot they took.
The result was a 15-point lead for the Seahawks. They controlled tempo, were seemingly first to every loose ball and looked like they would become the latest No. 12 seed to win in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
In the previous five years, half of the 12 seeds (10 of 20) have bounced No. 5 seeds.
But Perrantes and Shayok didn’t let it happen again.
“I think we had the last run,” Perrantes said. “Obviously, we knew at the beginning that they were going to make some tough shots. The point guard made some big shots with a hand in his face. Everybody seemed to have made shots. So I kind of just knew that, hopefully, they were going to start missing and we were going to start making them.”
UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks, who averaged 85.2 points a game this season, wanted a high-scoring affair and surely would have liked their chances with it in the 70s. But their inability to slow down Perrantes and Shayok, a big guard combination, proved to be the difference.
Virginia: Maybe the Cavs can score enough to be a factor in the tournament. Many believed their defense-first philosophy would be problematic, but if Perrantes and Shayok keep making shots, there’s little doubt this team can keep winning.
UNCW’s leading scorer, guard C.J. Bryce, struggled in every aspect of the game. Bryce was 2-for-11 shooting, including 0-for-2 from behind the arc, and even missed three free throws. He finished with eight points, ending his streak of scoring in double figures at nine games.
“I didn’t have my best game,” Bryce said. “Some shots didn’t drop for me and my teammates. … I took a couple tough shots early, (and) that affected my touch throughout the game. I tried to start getting to the line more, but they just didn’t drop for me tonight.”
Virginia: Plays the winner of No. 4 seed Florida and 13th-seeded East Tennessee State on Saturday.