London Perrantes, No. 8 Virginia use offensive explosion to beat No. 12 Villanova

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — London Perrantes didn’t have the built in excuse on Saturday afternoon.

11 days ago, when Virginia came from behind to beat West Virginia in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, Virginia’s star point guard was a week and a half removed from undergoing an appendectomy. It was easy to forgive him for starting slow when he had missed a pair of games and a week’s worth of practice and conditioning. After all, his stomach had been cut open. It might take 20 minutes to get used to playing against the relentless pressure coming from the Mountaineers.

But on Saturday?

When No. 12 Villanova came to Charlottesville?

Perrantes didn’t have an excuse for his slow start. He was 1-for-4 from the floor in the first half, finishing with four points and three turnovers at the break, making the kind of sloppy plays we’ve become accustomed to seeing from time to time from just about every point guard other than Perrantes. A three-year starter at the point, Perrantes had 101 turnovers in his career entering Saturday. He usually doesn’t make careless mistakes, which is why it was so surprising to again see him struggle against quality competition.

“Early, he was a little frustrated with some of his turnovers,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “I could see it in his eyes.”

The second half, however, was a totally different story. Perrantes scored 15 of his 19 points after halftime, playing an integral role in the game-changing, 14-0 run that led to Virginia scoring 45 of their 86 points in the final 12 minutes of the game. The Cavs would go on to win, 86-75, their second consecutive win over a ranked program.

It also happened to be the second consecutive game that Perrantes took over in the second half. He hit arguably the three most important shots of the game on Saturday — three momentum-changing threes, but we’ll get to that in a minute — the same way he hit three critical second half threes, scoring all 13 of his points in the final 20 minutes in the win over the Mountaineers.

“He usually hits one or two of those daggers a game,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said with a shake of his head. “He hit a bunch today.”

Those daggers are a huge part of the reason that Virginia is sitting at 10-1 on the season right now.

They are also the reason that the Cavs are not undefeated, which is what makes Perrantes to move valuable and irreplaceable player on this Virginia roster.

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A little more than a month ago, four days after the season began and four hours before the 24-Hour College Basketball Marathon was set to kick off, Virginia trekked up Route 29, from Charlottesville to Washington D.C., to lock horns with George Washington in one of the earlier and toughest true road games you’ll ever see a preseason top ten team play.

The Cavs lost that game, and the blame ended up squarely on Virginia’s defense. They lost Darion Atkins and they lost Justin Anderson, and while Bennett’s Pack-Line defense will churn out a top 25 efficiency rating regardless of who is on the roster, losing two of the nation’s best individual defenders was a blow that was going to take some time to adjust to.

Case in point: Last season, Virginia was fourth nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage. This year they’re 126th.

[RELATED: What’s wrong with Virginia defensively this season?]

What wasn’t mentioned in the aftermath of that loss is that Virginia simply did not find a way to execute offensively down the stretch, and Perrantes has to shoulder as much of the blame as anyone. He committed two of his three turnovers in the final six minutes. He badly missed a wide-open three with 1:20 left on the clock that would have cut GW’s lead to one point. He finished with five points on 2-for-8 shooting on a night that the ‘Hoos were just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc.

It was the kind of performance that necessitated a change in the way that we view this Virginia team. But now that we’re more than a month into the season, it appears that, instead of being an indictment on their ability to compete for an ACC title or reach a Final Four, it was more a sign of how we should expect the ‘Hoos to play this season. Namely, this isn’t going to be a team that will physically grind down opponents. They can’t rely solely on their defense to win games for them in the low-50s. They need to be able to score in bunches, and that’s exactly what they have down the last two times they’ve taken the court.

On Saturday, it was a 45-point outburst in the final 12 minutes of the game, including a ten minute stretch where Virginia hit seven threes.

“That’s what good teams do,” Wright said.

“They made us pay [defensively] when we didn’t block out or when we lost vision. They got some easy buckets,” Bennett said. “But our offense made up for that.”

Believe it or not, Virginia is the most potent offensive team in college basketball as of today. They rank No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings, and while their overall scoring output is capped by a methodical pace of play, there’s no questioning how lethal they are on a possession-by-possession basis.

Malcolm Brogdon is every bit the part of an all-american guard. On Saturday, he finished with 20 points, seven boards and six assists with just one turnover. By the end of the game, Villanova had no answer for how to contain him off the dribble, and it was Brogdon that set up two of Perrantes’ three late-game threes. And as good as the combination of Brogdon and Perrantes were, Anthony Gill was actually UVA’s leading scorer, finishing with 22 points and seven boards as he consistently overpowered Villanova’s smaller front line. They crash the offensive glass, they knock down threes, they don’t take bad shots.

They are always going to be good on that end of the floor.

But what makes them this good is Perrantes.

He’s never been known as a threat on the offensive end of the floor. A spot-up shooter? Sure. A facilitator that could get UVA into their sets? Absolutely. In his first two seasons in Charlottesville, he’s been the embodiment of the ‘pure point guard’ stereotype. This season, however, he’s averaging 11.5 points and shooting 56.7 percent from beyond the arc. He’s making critical drives to the rim and knocking down jump shots in big moments. He’s a tertiary scorer, a guy that can create a shot for himself outside of the confines of Virginia’s offense, and that’s not something he’s shown the ability — or the willingness? — to do in the past.

And it matters because Virginia is going to have moments were they are going to be forced to rely on their offensive firepower to win games for them.

“How were playing defense right now is not working,” Darius Thompson said. “Our physicality [with the new rules], we kind of have to out score teams.”

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.