For a half, it looked like it was happening again.
Gardner-Webb came out on fire. They were carving up Virginia’s ball-screen defense, they were hitting threes left and right and they jumped out to a 28-14 lead of the No. 1-seed Wahoos, who are still dealing with the after effects of becoming the first No. 1-seed to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
That all changed once Virginia decided to wake up.
De’Andre Hunter scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half and the Cavaliers used a 53-22 surge to run away with a win in the first round, knocking off No. 16-seed Gardner-Webb, 71-56. Ty Jerome chipped in with 13 points and six assists, but the unsung hero of the win was Mamadi Diakite. Gardner-Webb did not have the size to deal with him in the paint, and Tony Bennett decided to go to him continually in the second half. He finished with 17 points and nine boards, grabbing four offensive rebounds in the process.
To be frank, I don’t think the first half was anything more than a mental block for the Cavs. They looked scared. They looked nervous. They looked like they realized what the world thought about them and what an early deficit meant. The second half, however, was a different story, as Virginia’s talent won out.
But none of that matters.
And here’s to hoping that this means the Wahoos have exorcised their demons.
Because I am here for Virginia turning this thing around and proving to the nation just how good this program is, but against a program that’s actually good, a start like that is going to end up in disaster.
That includes No. 9-seed Oklahoma.
The noise is never going to stop, but a win might be all they need to find the confidence to get past it.