PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Fourth-ranked Virginia got another test like coach Tony Bennett wanted, and fittingly it came from a team with a style that looked awfully familiar.
Perhaps that’s why the Cavaliers handled everything that came their way — from fighting through their off-target shooting to tussling with a preseason All-American — well enough to win the Battle 4 Atlantis championship.
Virginia beat No. 25 Wisconsin 53-46 on Friday to claim the tournament title in a game that featured tough defense and plenty of clock-melting stretches that reduced the number of possessions, leading to a grind-it-out fight to the final horn.
That was just fine with Bennett, who has plenty of experienced players but deflected questions about his team’s experience before the tournament by focusing on the fact he’s only starting to blend in a few new additions.
Virginia (6-0) wasn’t tested much in its first three home games. Now Bennett has an answer about how his players will respond in a close game: well enough to claim a Thanksgiving holiday tournament championship for sixth straight year.
“It was a test of our system and it really was a test individually of what our guys had in their minds and in their heart,” Bennett said. “We talked about refusing to yield, just trying to be that way. It’s kind of coach talk, but it’s true when you get in those spots. I kept trying to say, ‘I love being in this spot. Keep fighting, let’s see what we can do.'”
There was plenty for Bennett to feel good about this week, starting with tournament MVP De’Andre Hunter. The 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore was dominant for much of the three games in the Bahamas, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds against the Badgers.
Beyond that, the Cavaliers followed their tough semifinal win against Dayton with a strong first half against Wisconsin (5-1) to build a 33-18 halftime lead. Then they were tough enough to hold off the Badgers despite shooting just 26 percent in the second half.
That included going just 2 for 16 out of the locker room, a stat that drew a chuckle from junior guard Ty Jerome.
“I guess it’s funny now because we won,” Jerome said, “but like (Bennett) said, it’s a testament to our defense, our fight and where we are right now in a season. I think we understood who we have to be today.”
That included finding ways to frustrate preseason Associated Press All-American Ethan Happ.
The 6-10 senior had a nice stat line with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six assists for Wisconsin, which shot 52 percent after halftime to cut into the deficit. But he also had six of the Badgers’ 13 turnovers, sometimes from Virginia guards helping inside to poke the ball away.
And that was just too many considering Wisconsin got just 59 possessions. The Badgers got as close as five four separate times in the second half, but could never overtake the Cavaliers.
“Tony’s got a good team, there’s no doubt,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “That’s an experienced, very well-prepared, very sound team that’s a great test for us early in the year.”
OKLAHOMA 65, DAYTON 54
Christian James scored 21 points to make the five-man all-tournament team as Oklahoma won the third-place game.
Oklahoma (5-1) led 9-0 and 26-12 in this one, only to fall behind 41-34 when the Flyers opened the second half on a 13-0 run. But Oklahoma regrouped, and James hit a pair of big 3-pointers and a layup during one key sequence.
“Sometimes you’ve got a team where you know which guys every night are going to be consistent producers,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “This is going to be a group that’s different guys on different nights. … Still, I like the pieces.”
Jalen Crutcher scored 14 points for Dayton (4-2), which shot just 32 percent.
STANFORD 67, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 54
KZ Okpala scored 22 points to help Stanford (3-3) win the seventh-place game.
Thursday’s loss to Florida had left coach Jerod Haase saying he needed to “deliver the message more effectively” in getting more out of his players offensively. His team responded by shooting 48 percent after halftime and leading by 18.
“There were times when we were as ugly as could be on the offensive end and at times struggled defensively,” Haase said of the tournament. “But I thought our guys competed pretty consistently.”
Antonio Green scored 21 points to lead the Blue Raiders (3-4), who shot 36 percent and had 22 turnovers.
BUTLER 61, FLORIDA 54
Kamar Baldwin scored 19 points, including his 1,000th career point, as Butler won the fifth-place game.
The Bulldogs (5-1) shot 50 percent after halftime and hit some key free throws late to stay in control.
“It wasn’t perfect,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “I can’t even say it was pretty. We just had to find a way to get the job done.”
It was another bumpy offensive showing for the Gators (3-3). After making 7 of 15 3-pointers in the first half to lead 32-27 at the break, the Gators shot 29 percent after halftime and made just 1 of 12 3s.
“Defensively I thought they put on a clinic,” Florida coach Mike White said.
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