PITTSBURGH — Virginia’s players waited until after their win over Pittsburgh to celebrate their outright regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference title.
They probably could have started at halftime.
The top-ranked Cavaliers allowed just seven points in the first half, took a 30-7 lead into the break and cruised to their 15th victory in 16 conference games, 66-37 over the hapless Panthers.
“We got off to a good start and we tried to not let up in any way,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
Virginia (26-2, 14-1 ACC) had already clinched at least a share of first place with a home win over Georgia Tech on Wednesday, but they were eager to clinch an outright title.
“It was something that we knew about coming into this game, so it was exciting,” forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “It is a good feeling, but there is still a lot of basketball to be played.”
With the game and the ACC title essentially wrapped up at the half, Bennett took the opportunity to rest most of his regulars. Freshman guard De’Andre Hunter came off the bench to lead the Cavaliers with 14 points. Reserve Nigel Johnson added 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
“De’Andre was engaged, and that was a challenge for everybody to be engaged with a heightened sense of focus,” Bennett said. “He’s been having a really good year. We play him some at the three, some at the four. He’s aggressive.”
The game was never competitive, as Virginia started on an 8-0 run and Pitt didn’t make a field goal until Jared Wilson-Frame hit a 3-pointer at the midway point of the first half. The Cavaliers didn’t need big offensive efforts from their regulars. Of the five starters, only guard Ty Jerome exceeded his season average with 13 points.
Parker Stewart led Pitt (8-22, 0-17) with 12 points, all on 3-pointers. Pitt had next to no presence inside. The Panthers were outscored 28-8 in the paint and out-rebounded 36-24. Seven of Pitt’s 11 made field goals were from beyond the arc.
Virginia: The Cavaliers got a big scare when leading scorer Kyle Guy left the game and headed to the locker room about three minutes into the second half. Guy returned to the bench but did not re-enter the game. He finished with three points in 19 minutes. Bennett said Guy could have returned if necessary.
“It’s experience for the other guys and I would rather be safe than sorry,” Bennett said.
Pittsburgh: The first-half performance was historically bad in several ways. Pitt’s 4.5 percent shooting from the floor was the lowest field-goal percentage in a half for the team, breaking the mark of 12.5 percent set against Rutgers in 2012. It was Pitt’s fewest points scored in a half since 1952.
“That wasn’t any fun,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Virginia is the real deal. … Defensively, they just don’t have any weaknesses and they make it very difficult for you.”
Johnson, who missed three games in early February after a violation of team rules, had scored just four points total in his three games since returning. His scoring average was down to five points per game.
The redshirt senior guard, a graduate transfer from Rutgers, had shown offensive prowess earlier in the season with a 22-point game against Davidson. Getting the veteran guard back into form will be a benefit for the Cavaliers down the stretch run.
“Yeah, maybe he was a little rusty from his three-game suspension, but I thought today, he gave us a lift,” Bennett said. “We’ve been pushing hard in practice, challenging him. This team needs him. He has some quickness that he can add to the equation.”
The Cavaliers will likely remain No. 1 in the country with two wins in the week.
Virginia: Visits Louisville on Thursday. The Cavaliers have beaten the Cardinals in five straight meetings.
Pittsburgh: Finishes its season at Notre Dame on Wednesday. Pitt has already been assured of finishing in last place in the ACC.