PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — De’Andre Hunter is rapidly developing into a game-changing presence in fourth-ranked Virginia’s lineup.
The 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore matched his career high with 23 points and hit a critical late 3-pointer to help the Cavaliers hold off Dayton 66-59 in Thursday’s Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals. It was his second big outing in two days in the Bahamas, a sign that last season’s Atlantic Coast Conference sixth man of the year is poised to thrive in a leading role.
“Every game you sort of start over,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “But as long as he’s ready to go and has that mindset of being defensive-minded and then aggressive with soundness offensively, that’s all I can ask for from him.”
Virginia (5-0) advanced to Friday’s championship game to face No. 25 Wisconsin, which beat Oklahoma in a semifinal to start the four-game slate on Thanksgiving Day. Florida beat Stanford and Butler beat Middle Tennessee in the consolation bracket.
Hunter had 15 points, eight rebounds and a career-high nine assists in the first-round win over Middle Tennessee, a sneaky-good performance that even had Bennett surprised by his assist total afterward.
On Thursday, he roamed everywhere and essentially played as the 5-man in a small-ball lineup down the stretch as Virginia sought to counter Dayton’s athleticism. He’s athletic enough to harass smaller players on the wing but strong enough to wrestle with big men with his 225-pound frame.
“I think it helps a lot offensively and defensively,” he said. “I can switch 1 through 4, maybe sometimes guard a 5. And offensively, I can bring the big man out and let our guards drive and attack.”
He hit the game’s biggest shot, too.
Leading 60-56 with the shot clock dwindling, Hunter took a pass on the right side and pump-faked to get Dayton’s Obi Toppin airborne. He calmly took a dribble as Toppin flew by and buried a 3 with 53.1 seconds left, helping the Cavaliers hold on after the Flyers (4-1) shot 55 percent after halftime.
“You get a miss there and who knows — you get a transition opportunity, it’s a different ballgame,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “That was huge. He’s a big player and made a big-time play for his team.”
NO. 25 WISCONSIN 78, OKLAHOMA 58
Oklahoma sent a steady stream of double teams at preseason Associated Press All-American Ethan Happ. Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice took advantage of the open looks.
Trice set career highs with 25 points and a tournament-record seven 3-pointers — a mark matched by Butler’s Sean McDermott in Thursday’s final game — after going 0 for 5 from behind the arc in Round 1.
“We definitely expect teams to go two at the ball with Ethan when he has it,” Trice said. “I think that opens up a lot of guys and Ethan finds open teammates.”
Trice started 7 for 7 on 3s, the last when he pump-faked a defender and stepped to his right to hit for a 66-47 lead with 6:22 left. He finally missed with 5:57 left to finish at 7 for 8.
That was the first missed 3 after halftime for the Badgers (5-0), who made 8 of 9 in the second half and 14 of 22 for the game. Wisconsin shot 59 percent after the break.
Christian James scored 18 points for the Sooners (4-1), who shot 47 percent. They next face Dayton in Friday’s third-place game.
FLORIDA 72, STANFORD 49
Florida coach Mike White finally had reason to feel more at ease.
Deaundrae Ballard scored a career-best 19 points to lead the Gators (3-2), whose offense hadn’t started the season like White expected and managed 60 points in the first-round loss to Oklahoma.
White said Wednesday that confidence was an issue. But the Gators responded behind a juggled starting lineup, giving freshman Noah Locke (11 points) his first career start in place of senior Jalen Hudson (7 scoreless minutes).
Florida shot 52 percent and allowed 13 first-half points, its fewest for a half under the fourth-year coach.
“We were a different team tonight,” White said. “It feels good, I’ve got to be honest with you.”
Cormac Ryan scored 12 points for Stanford (2-3), which made 5 of 23 shots with 13 turnovers in an opening half that essentially decided this one.
Florida faces Butler in Friday’s fifth-place game, while Stanford faces Middle Tennessee for seventh.
BUTLER 84, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 53
McDermott scored 21 points and tied Trice’s record of seven 3-pointers, part of Butler’s Atlantis-record 16 3s against Middle Tennessee.
The Bulldogs (4-1) went 16 of 35 from behind the arc, surpassing the previous mark of 15 set by Massachusetts in 2011.
Paul Jorgensen also scored 21 points for Butler, which shot 52 percent.
James Hawthorne scored 11 points for the Blue Raiders (3-3), who shot 32 percent and committed 20 turnovers.
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