CHARLOTTESVILLE— With 2:43 left in the first half, the John Paul Jones Arena crowd erupted in a standing ovation after one UVA guard’s sustained offensive explosion. Only it wasn’t Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome who put on the scoring showcase; instead, redshirt freshman DeAndre Hunter led the Cavaliers with 23 points en route to a 73-53 victory Sunday against Monmouth.
Hunter’s stellar day of shooting began when the Cavaliers needed him most, after falling behind 15-8 due to the early hot hand of Monmouth sophomore guard Louie Pillari. With 12 minutes left in the half, Hunter took over, scoring 10 of Virginia’s next 12 points as the Cavaliers stormed back to take a 20-15 lead and never looked back. Hunter’s definitive 3-pointer inside the three-minute mark capped off a 15-point first half, already surpassing his career high of 13.
“Man I didn’t know he was that good, he just kept getting to his spots and scoring,” Monmouth head coach King Rice said on Hunter’s breakout first half. “They set great screens for him…you don’t always have an answer for that.”
Perhaps most impressive about Hunter’s performance was that he was doing it off the bench in limited minutes. His 15 first-half points almost matched the 18 from Virginia’s entire starting five. For Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, Hunter’s performance was a nice surprise, but he’ll need to keep working if he wants to turn into a dependable bench scorer.
“There’s certainly going to be some ups and downs,” Bennett said on Hunter’s early performances thus far. “But you certainly saw a nice flash and it’s about now can we get consistent and keep up with the pace of the game. But I was very happy for DeAndre, he’s got to take this and put it as a good experience and grow.”
Hunter shined not just as a shooter, but as an overall court presence and key piece in UVA’s pack line defense. He led the Cavaliers with eight rebounds on the afternoon, and his quickness as an outside threat opened up scoring opportunities for other guards like Guy in the second half.
Following Hunter’s standout first half, the Cavaliers led 39-21 and picked up right where they left off defensively in the second. After holding Monmouth to only two points in the final five minutes of the half, Virginia shut down Monmouth in the first three minutes of the second half, extending the Cavalier lead 43-21.
Though Hunter returned to the bench to start the second half, Virginia kept up its momentum with more dynamic guard play from Guy, Jerome and graduate student and Rutgers transfer Nigel Johnson. Johnson struggled a bit from the floor, shooting 2 for 7, but his two steals and two assists in the second half showed his ability to create opportunities off the bench.
Guy excelled defensively in the second half along with redshirt freshman Jay Huff, who notched three blocks in 13 minutes on the floor. For Virginia, the freshman duo of Huff and Hunter off the bench looks to be a huge threat moving forward, as both players can score in a variety of ways.
Once Hunter returned with 14 minutes left in the game, he picked up right where he left off, scoring on the Cavaliers first possession, before contributing a rebound and a steal on following possessions. He would finish 8-for-10 shooting on the day, before exiting the game to another standing ovation from the Cavalier crowd.
Satisfied with his performance, Hunter echoed Tony Bennett’s words about staying focused on consistency.
“The last few games, I felt I hadn’t been playing my game as best as I could,” Hunter said. “Coach just told me to be confident and stay ready and that’s what I tried to do.”
For Monmouth, Louie Pillari led in scoring with 14 points while junior guard Micah Seaborn continued to struggle, playing limited minutes with a nagging meniscus injury. After the game, Coach Rice announced that Seaborn will be shut down until he has a chance to fully recover.
Up next for Monmouth on their southern swing is UNC-Ashville, while the Cavaliers will travel to New York for a Thanksgiving Day clash against Vanderbilt as part of the Barclay’s Center NIT Season Tip-off.