The UMBC loss helped Tony Bennett grow as a coach. Now, he's a national champion.

Josh Luckenbaugh
April 09, 2019 - 11:05 am

Tom Pennington - Getty Images Sport

This time last year, Virginia was a laughingstock. The Cavaliers had become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after a humbling defeat at the hands of UMBC. 

Monday, the Cavaliers exorcised all the demons of last season, beating Texas Tech in overtime 85-77 to claim the school's first national championship. Mike DeCourcy gives the credit to head coach Tony Bennett and his adjustments for getting UVA to the top of the college basketball mountain.

"Nobody wanted to buy (stock in) them because of what happened in that game. And there were people last spring after the loss to UMBC who wrote that this system would never produce NCAA Tournament success," DeCourcy told The Sports Junkies Tuesday.

"The truth is, that game did change Tony Bennett, and it changed him for the better. Because they went away from the movers and blockers offensive system that they had played in the past. That was what he had learned from his father, that's what he had done early in his career."

"After last year, they changed to basically a ball-screen offense that relied very heavily on Ty Jerome's ability and Kyle Guy's ability and DeAndre (Hunter)'s ability, and allowed them to be players more so than they had been."

"In this tournament, he was willing to change," DeCourcy continued. "He grew as a coach as a result of the UMBC game: more flexible, more willing to do different things, and that's why they're here."

DeCourcy also gave props to Cavaliers forward DeAndre Hunter, who led all scorers with 27 points, knocked down several big shots and played terrific defense on Texas Tech star Jarrett Culver, who went just 5-22 from the field.

"I was at five of his six games in this tournament, and he was not good for a lot of that," said DeCourcy. "He was magnificent last night. A little sluggish start, but that happens, nothing that persisted."

"And then down the stretch made just enormous shots. The great shot that he made off of the Ty Jerome assist with about 12, 13 seconds left — I wrote that I believe that shot was the game-winner, and that it should go down in Virginia basketball history in the way that Scottie Thurman's shot against Duke is celebrated by Arkansas fans still 25 years later."

"It was the game-winner, even though they still had to play another five minutes and 15 seconds."

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