RALEIGH, N.C. — Teammates blinked, fans cringed, and deadline-panicked scribes outlined odes to upsets. London Perrantes spared everyone.
Playing in his first NCAA tournament game late Friday night, Virginia's point guard showcased the poise and talent that have defined his freshman season. His decisions were sage, passes precise, shots accurate.
Without those contributions, the Cavaliers might well have become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16. With them, Virginia escaped Coastal Carolina and advanced to Sunday's round of 32 against Memphis.
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PNC Arena, Raleigh
Perrantes needs to be similarly effective against the Tigers, who are jet-like at guard and prefer a high-octane pace. He needs to curb the tempo, direct his teammates and make enough shots to deter Memphis from shading its defense toward Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris.
The Perrantes-Joe Jackson matchup at the point will be pivotal, the unflappable kid against the fourth-year starter, a veteran of five NCAA tournament games.
"We just have to go out there and just kind of rattle him a little bit," Jackson said Saturday.
Good luck there.
Friday was the 15th game in which Perrantes was turnover-free, an astonishing number for anyone, let alone a rookie. Sure, Virginia (29-6) plays at a measured pace, but Perrantes' 3.5-to-1 assist-turnover ratio (134 assists and 38 TOs) transcends tempo.
Consider Jackson, who's been turnover-free twice this season. In his NCAA tournament debut three years ago, he committed five turnovers in 19 minutes against Arizona, part of a freshman season in which he had more giveaways than assists.
"I had the jitters," Jackson recalled, "just as a freshman, your first chance to get out on the floor and try to make it far in the tournament. You've got a lot on your mind. You're trying to help your team win, especially when you're the point guard, your duties are so much more important."
Perrantes confessed to unusual nerves Friday, but they never showed. He made 3-of-4 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc and all three of his foul shots for 12 points. He passed for six assists and blocked a shot.
Perrantes' two first-half threes prevented Coastal Carolina from extending a lead that once reached 10. Even as seinors such as Harris and Akil Mitchell played tentatively (tight?), Perrantes oozed calm.
The Cavaliers were more comfortable in the second half, but the game was knotted at 47 with less than nine minutes remaining when Josh Cameron fouled Perrantes on a 3-pointer. Perrantes made all the free throws to give Virginia a lead it did not relinquish.
"I don't think I even looked at the score," Perrantes said, oblivious to the pressure of the moment.
Perrantes was shooting 29.2 percent from three in mid-February. Since, he's 21-of-32, or 65.6 percent.
The exponential progress has made an already versatile team more difficult to defend. But defending Memphis and Jackson – he leads the Tigers in scoring at 14.6 points per game and assists at 4.6 -- will be equally challenging.
Perrantes figures to draw the defensive assignment on Jackson.
"He may be the quickest we've gone against," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "Certainly one of them, but perhaps the quickest. So your ability to try to stay down and keep him in front … relying on the help but handling the ball because of the pressure you face, all those things, a lot's required, and we're going to need one of (London's) best performances, or one of his most steady performances.
"He doesn't have to be perfect, but he's been that for us when we've played our best ball. So we'll expect it, but that's where all of our perimeter guys have to be ready. I think London knows what's needed and he's got a great challenge in front of him. Knowing him, I think he's really looking forward to it."
He is. He knows Memphis (24-9) is faster and more athletic. But he is also confident in Virginia's ability to run when practical.
"I feel like we'll be fine (Sunday)," Perrantes said. "We'll take the fast breaks when we can, but we know we have to play our game to win. We're opportunistic with our fast breaks. We're not going to push it every time down. We're smart about that."
They have been all year. With a trip to Madison Square Garden for the East Regional semifinals at stake, Sunday is no time to change.