- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 7, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - London Perrantes was just 13 games into his college career at Virginia when Tony Bennett pulled him aside on the eve of Atlantic Coast Conference play and made one his best coaching moves ever.

“I said, in so many words, it’s time. Here are the keys to the car or however you want to say it, but you’ve got to run this team,” Bennett said he told the point guard, even though he was just a freshman on a team featuring four future NBA players. “… He just has a way of making everyone around him better.”

The Cavaliers were coming off a 25-point loss at Tennessee during that 2013-14 season but immediately responded to Bennett’s move. They won 16 of their next 17, won the first of two straight ACC regular season titles and reached the NCAA Tournament. They will make it four straight trips to the game’s biggest stage this year, regardless of what happens at the ACC Tournament in New York.

The 21st-ranked Cavaliers begin play in the ACC tourney Wednesday as the sixth seed and will face either Georgia Tech or Pittsburgh in the second round. The four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances will be a first for the Cavaliers (21-9) since the 1983-84 season.

Perrantes will again be the driving force behind whatever success Virginia will have in the postseason.

“I remember it vividly,” the guard said of the moment Bennett made him the leader. “We sat down at the hotel restaurant and just had a meeting right before the Florida State game. He kind of just gave me the program, put the program in my hands and had the utmost faith in me. As a player, hearing that from the head coach is huge, and I think it was a good decision on his part.”

Perrantes has rewarded Bennett with four years of steadiness. He now holds the program record with 130 career starts, and Virginia has won 106 of them. If the Cavaliers can muster up five more victories between the ACC and NCAA tournaments, the Los Angeles native will become the program’s career leader in wins.

Perrantes was once primarily a setup man for Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon and Mike Tobey, all of whom have played in the NBA this year. But he also has had a knack for timely scoring. Last season, he averaged 11 points and shot 48.8 percent from 3-point range.

His team-leading 12.8-point scoring average this season is the second lowest by the team’s leading scorer in program history.

Part of Perrantes’ many on-court duties is mentoring Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, the freshmen guards who will replace him next year. At times, Bennett said, the dual roles have seemed overwhelming, but Perrantes appears in a good place heading into the postseason.

“He has a nice balance right now and we’ll need that,” Bennett said. “To have a point guard like that, who has a mind and a feel for the game and is not afraid of the moment is significant. This year, our margin for error is probably a little tighter, so with less experienced players, he’s been called on to do more.”

Perrantes has done that, averaging 14.9 points and 3.6 assist in conference games.

“This team needed me to be more assertive on the offensive end and be that guy,” he said, “but we have some special pieces around me, so it’s not just me and we’re going to need everybody moving forward.”


More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org


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