Those with heart problems didn't need to watch the battle Wednesday night between the Virginia Cavaliers (9-2) and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (10-2). The hearts were pounding in the stands and both squads provided the fireworks necessary to send pacemakers haywire. In easily the most dramatic game this season the Hoos managed to come back and win a thriller in double overtime. The setting was perfect the entire night for an upset for the Hilltoppers but through perseverance and true grit the Hoos managed to pull out an extremely tough victory over a very good Western Kentucky team 80-79.
The Hoos opened with a 3-0 lead to start the game and then they played from behind the rest of the night as the Hilltoppers were paced by Anthony Winchester with 30 points and 11 rebounds. Winchester put on a dazzling display punishing any Hoo defender(s) who attempted to check him defensively. The performance by Winchester was one of the best individual efforts we've seen from an opposing players in recent memory. Also providing strong play for WKU was freshman Courtney Lee who added 20 points and 8 rebounds in the losing effort.
Pete Gillen's squad played poor both defensively and offensively as they shot 38% from the field on the night. Given the poor shooting and their second game in a row without leading scorer Devin Smith it would have appeared that this one looked to have all the makings of a loss. Unlike past Hoo teams the players found a way to stay close after trailing almost the entire game and send the game into the first overtime after Sean Singletary snagged an offensive rebound and found Jason Clark who put up a shot that was goaltended by WKU's Elgrace Wilborn at the buzzer to knot the score at 65 all.
Starting the game as a small surprise to many fans in attendance was T.J. Bannister in place of shooting guard J.R. Reynolds. Bannister was efficient with the exception of 6 turnovers on the night scoring 6 points and handing out 5 assists. His last two points however were the most important as Bannister scored the game winner on a driving layup after a scramble for the ball with 2.6 seconds left in the second overtime.
J.R. Reynolds has looked very good in the past few games and he continued his hot streak despite coming off the bench with 20 points and 6 rebounds. We were told earlier in the day that he was suffering from food poisoning and would be a game time decision. Those fearing "the sophomore slump" should rest easy it appears when it comes to Reynolds. Reynolds performed valiantly as he battled the case of food poisoning and looks primed for conference play.
One of the biggest heroes on the night had to be senior Jason Clark who might have put on the best performance of his career to our recollection with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots. Clark was the only Hoo to shot over 50% on the night and his key baskets and rebounds were absolutely clutch in the victory. In fact, Clark's performance earned him the HooNation.com player of the game award. Clark challenged his teammates after the loss to Wake Forest on Sunday and the senior came out and provided the type of senior leadership that was vital to the team's victory. The 16 points on the night would tie his career high.
Clark's partner in the paint, Elton Brown, managed a decent game although he struggled offensively with 10 points and 12 boards. The Newport News native added his 7th double double of the season with his effort and his effectiveness on the boards has been a big reason for the strong Virginia start this season.
Freshman Sean Singletary continues to play through the pain of his injured shoulder and it showed against WKU as his shot just isn't the same since the injury. He would finish with 11 points and 7 assists and had a key offensive rebound that led to the Hoos sending the game into the first overtime. Singletary and Bannister were both smitten with the turnover bug as Singletary had 4 on the night. That number will probably need to be cut in half as conference play heats up soon.
We knew coming into the game that Western Kentucky had a very good squad and the crowd at University Hall was treated to a drama filled performance by both teams. Thankfully the Hoos were able to muster up the heart to fight back when it appeared they were out of the game and come away with an exciting win in double overtime. We've said it before and we'll say it again...this UVA team finds a way to compete and instead of hanging their heads when they're down they persevere and do what it takes to win. These lessons will be crucial as the next game for the Hoos will take them to Atlanta, Georgia to face the #9 ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets who made it to the national championship game last season. We are unaware if Devin Smith will be healthy enough to play but regardless the Hoos will have to play their best game of the year to give themselves a chance to win against Paul Hewitt's talented team.