ATLANTA (AP) — Virginia got off to a sluggish start offensively.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, their defense never takes a night off.
De’Andre Hunter came off the bench to score 17 points and No. 2 Virginia turned in another defensive masterpiece Thursday, stretching its winning streak to nine in a row with a 64-48 victory over Georgia Tech.
The Cavaliers (17-1, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) limited Georgia Tech to 40.5 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers, leading to 16 points.
“The defense held us in there until we got a little rhythm and hit some shots,” coach Tony Bennett said. “We were stingy to score against. That always carries you on the road.”
Virginia snapped a four-game winning streak for the Yellow Jackets (10-8, 3-2).
After making the first basket of the game, Georgia Tech quickly got an idea of what kind of night it would be. The Jackets missed their next eight shots and turned it over four times before Josh Okogie finally broke a nearly eight-minute scoreless drought with a dunk off a backdoor pass.
Virginia shot just 40 percent in the first half but still led 28-19 at the break.
Georgia Tech never got any closer the rest of the way.
“They’re just a very disciplined team offensively and defensively,” Yellow Jackets center Ben Lammers said. “That makes it very difficult. You can’t make a mistake or you’ll pay for it.”
The last gasp for the home team essentially came in the closing seconds of the first half. It looked as though the Jackets would go to the locker room on a bit of a high after Curtis Haywood hit his second 3-pointer from far beyond the stripe, closing the gap to 24-19.
But Hunter got free in the corner and knocked down a trey with 0.1 seconds left in the half, turning it into a four-point play when Abdoulaye Gueye foolishly went for the block and sent the Virginia player sprawling to the court .
The free throw gave the Cavaliers their biggest lead of the opening period.
“That’s definitely not the way you want to end a half,” Lammers said. “We were on a little bit of a roll. It’s definitely a bit of a downer for our team. I think it helped their momentum.”
Virginia steadily pulled away over the final 20 minutes, dominating the inside for a 44-20 edge on points in the paint. Ty Jerome added 12 points, while Devon Hall and Kyle Guy had 11 apiece.
Tadric Jackson led Georgia Tech with 14 points. No one else was in double figures.
Virginia: The Cavaliers held an opponent under 50 points for the eighth time this season. They came into the night allowing the fewest points of any Division I team, and actually improved on their 52.9 average. That helped to cover for a tough night from 3-point range on which the Cavs connected on just 3 of 13 attempts.
Georgia Tech: Okogie, averaging 18.8 points per game, struggled to get open and finished with just nine points on 3-of-8 shooting. But coach Josh Pastner is especially concerned about Lammers, who attempted only five shots, made one and finished with four points. “We’ve got to get more out of him offensively,” Pastner said. “When you’re not scoring, it sucks the life out of you.”
WILKINS STEPS UP
The Cavaliers switched things up a bit against Lammers, turning to Isaiah Wilkins to handle the bulk of the defensive duties.
When the teams met last season , 6-foot-10 Jack Salt limited Lammers to seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
This time, it was the 6-foot-7 Wilkins — the stepson of former Atlanta Hawks great Dominique Wilkins — making life miserable for Georgia Tech’s big man.
“He played to his personality,” Bennett said. “He’s such a giver. He thinks help. He thinks cover for teammates. He knows how to anticipate. If you can find that, it’s worth its weight in gold for a defensive player.”
It was an especially disappointing performance for the Yellow Jackets, considering it came before their first sellout of the season at 8,600-seat McCamish Pavilion.
Virginia: Plays its second straight ACC road game at Wake Forest on Sunday.
Georgia Tech: Faces a short turnaround before traveling to Chapel Hill on Saturday for another game against a ranked opponent, No. 15 North Carolina.