NEW YORK — Isaiah Wilkins is the step-son of NBA Hall of Famer Dominque Wilkins, who earned the nickname of the “Human Highlight Film” for his arsenal of high-flying dunks during the 1980s.
Isaiah Wilkins did not rise above the defenders to get the dunks his stepfather once electrified crowds with but created plenty of other highlights.
Wilkins scored a career-high 19 points as Virginia pulled away in the second half and beat Rhode Island 70-55 Friday night to win the Preseason NIT.
“On the scouting report, I saw they were a little bit smaller than I was,” Wilkins said. “I just wanted to take full advantage of that.”
The 6-foot-7 senior made 7 of 9 shots in 23 minutes and was named MVP of the tournament. Wilkins came into the game as the Cavaliers’ (6-0) fifth-leading scorer at 6.8 points but surpassed his previous career best of 15 points set February 1 against Virginia Tech.
“He brings so much,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “His stat line usually doesn’t show it. It showed it today. He’s usually making a huge impact.”
Wilkins impacted things by capitalizing on a mismatch as Rhode Island started four guards — all listed at 6-foot-3 or shorter. Wilkins hit four jumpers, converted a tip-in and a pair of layups.
Wilkins also made 5 of 6 free throws and grabbed six rebounds as Virginia held a 33-22 rebounding margin.
“It was big time, it was huge,” said Virginia guard Devon Hall, who added 18 points. “We were trying to get it into him early. I don’t know if he scored our first bucket or not but we tried to get it to him early so he could take advantage of it.”
Wilkins put the emphatic finish on the win with a 3-point play with 69 seconds left and a block on Jeff Dowtin with 13 seconds remaining.
“We knew they was a little undersized,” Virginia reserve guard Nigel Johnsonsaid. “Isaiah had a mismatch the whole game.”
The highlights Wilkins provided occurred on a night when leading scorer Kyle Guy struggled to get into a flow. He finished with five points on 2-of-8 shooting and also committed four turnovers.
Rhode Island (3-2) was unable to follow up its rousing Thursday win over Seton Hall. Andre Berry led the Rams with 12 points while Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell added 11 apiece.
Terrell was unable to follow up his 32-point night against Seton Hall and shot just 4 of 11, including 2 of 7 after halftime when Rhode Island was outscored 40-28.
“We came here to win the championship,” Rhode Island Danny Hurley said. “In our minds, we failed that way, but (we feel good) about yesterday’s win and hopefully we will learn from tonight’s experience of playing against a high-level team.”
Virginia appeared headed for a double-digit lead at times in the first half but settled for a 30-27 halftime lead. The Cavaliers held the Rams without a basket for over 3-1/2 minutes and held a 28-19 edge on a basket by Jack Salt with 2:34 left.
Rhode Island finished the half with an 8-2 run capped by an open corner 3 from Garrett with 30 seconds left that forced Virginia to use a 30-second timeout.
Virginia began the second half sluggishly, falling behind in the opening minutes but Hall snapped a 35-35 tie with a 3-pointer at the 15:35 mark and a little over four minutes later, the Cavaliers held a 47-37 lead on open corner 3 by Guy.
The Cavaliers never led by less than eight points the rest of the way and held a double-digit edge over the final 7:25.
Rhode Island: It was a difficult night for leading scorer Jared Terrell, who came into the game averaging 21.8 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting. He never hit his stride like he did Thursday with a 32-point showing against No. 20 Seton Hall. Terrell reached double digits for the fourth straight game but his final line was similar to his six-point night against UNC-Ashville on Nov. 10. At one point, things became so frustrating for Terrell he showed his disappointment by getting called for a technical foul with 9:27 left in the second half by yelling “Come on!”
Terrell’s quiet night was magnified by the fact that Rhode Island was missing Cyril Langevine (groin) and E.J. Matthews (broken wrist.)
Virginia: Virginia’s 93 points in this week’s poll made it the last team out of the top 25 but that may change Monday, especially if No. 25 Alabama loses to No. 14 Minnesota. Regardless of how much consideration they get, the Cavaliers appear to have another stout defense. The Cavaliers have never ranked lower than 54th defensively in 10 seasons under coach Tony Bennett and are allowing 52.3 points per game.
Rhode Island: Hosts Brown on Tuesday.
Virginia: Hosts Wisconsin on Monday.