CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Jack Salt has been content as the guy setting screens for second-ranked Virginia’s best offensive players, chasing down rebounds and wrestling for post position.
On Thursday, it was the big man’s turn to be an offensive star.
The redshirt senior had a career-high 18 points to help Virginia rally past North Carolina State 76-56 in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals, providing an unexpected offensive boost. Salt is generally a role player behind Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter.
“He’s a relentless worker, and Jack understands who he is,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “He finishes when stuff is there and gets offensive rebounds ... He’s one of the best givers I’ve ever coached.”
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Salt went 7 of 8 from the field. There was an off-balance driving reverse layup while drawing a foul.
“I didn’t know if it was real,” said Jerome, with a chuckle.
Salt even picked up a technical foul for swinging on the rim too long after a dunk.
“I haven’t jumped that far and dunked in a while, and so I had to hold onto the rim or else I would have fell on my head,” Salt said. “So I was pretty surprised on that one.”
Of course, anyone could forgive the New Zealander’s zeal on a day like this.
He had cracked double figures in scoring just once all year while dealing with bouts of back trouble and gone scoreless in five straight games. Yet Salt was the improbable star for Virginia (29-2), even on a day when Guy went for 29 points to flirt with his own career high.
Virginia looked to be in for a fight to the final horn after trailing 29-27 at halftime. But Guy, Salt and the rest of the Cavaliers dominated the eighth-seeded Wolfpack (22-11) after halftime, shooting 63 percent with long runs of efficient offense to go with the typically tough defense.
Virginia scored 49 second-half points.
Markell Johnson had 13 points to lead N.C. State, which shot 39 percent and made only 15 of 25 free throws. The Wolfpack led by six midway through the first half before fading.
“I don’t think we wasted an opportunity because I don’t think we played that much greater than them in the first half,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said. “They just played better than us. They made plays. They got and-ones. They made their free throws. And for us in the second half, we didn’t get those breaks.”