Snap Judgments: 2017 NIT Season Tip-Off Consolation & Championship Games

Robert Cole/ALOST
The sports axiom that defense wins championships may apply to Virginia more than anyone in basketball, as they came away with the NIT Season Tip-Off title after holding its two opponents to 48.5 PPG. (Robert Cole/ALOST)


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


NEW YORK — New season, same Virginia stifling defense.

The Cavaliers have been known for its suffocating “pack line” defense for the past few years under head coach Tony Bennett, and it was once again on display this weekend as Virginia shut down Vanderbilt on Thanksgiving Day to the tune of 42 points, then turned around and defeated Atlantic-10 preseason favorite Rhode Island 70-55 to win the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off at the Barclays Center on Friday night.

As offensively challenged as the Cavaliers have been most seasons under Bennett, this season might prove to be the toughest in terms of replacing the offensive production it lost last season, including senior lead guard London Perrantes, the only double-digit scorer for the team last season. Also, second-leading scorer Marial Shayok transferred in the offseason to Iowa State, leaving Virginia without its two leading scorers from last season.

But Virginia has not risen to the top of the ACC and on the brink of the Final Four under Bennett without being resourceful, and it looks like Isaiah Wilkins, last season’s ACC Defensive Player of the Year, will be one of the peopel who step up the most and fill some of that offensive void. Against the Rams tonight, Wilkins went for a career-high 19 points. Wilkins, the step-son of NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, hit seven of his nine shots from the floor in 23 minutes and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Rhode Island, which came into the game after winning a thriller against Seton Hall yesterday, was playing without guard E.C. Matthews (wrist) and power forward Cyril Langevine (groin) for tonight’s game, and coach Danny Hurley went with a starting lineup that had four players who stood at 6-foot-3 or shorter. Despite a quickness edge that one would think the Rams had with that lineup, the Rhode Island still found it tough to break through the Cavalier defense on a consistent basis. Forward Andre Berry led three Rams in double figures with 12 points.

A big difference in the game turned out to be foul shooting, as the Rams, one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the nation last season, hit 7-of-14 from the charity stripe, while the Cavaliers were 19-for 22.

In the consolation game, No. 20 Seton Hall rebounded from its one-point loss to Rhode Island to defeat the Vanderbilt Commodores 72-59. Forward Desi Rodriguez, a native of the Bronx, scored a season-high 27 points as the Pirates’ defense limited Vanderbilt to 34 percent shooting overall, including 5-for-24 from the three-point line, in the game. Off the bench, Commodores guard Jeff Roberson scored 20 points for Vanderbilt, the only player to score in double figures for the Commodores.

*Editor’s note: Above the byline and story is the photo gallery from Friday night’s games, with all photos taken by our senior photographer, Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 36 pictures in total.

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