Bennett got what he needed in rout over visiting A&T

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Jon Golden

Monte Ross couldn’t help himself when a reporter asked him about outscoring Virginia in the second half of the Cavaliers’ win over his North Carolina A&T squad on Tuesday night.

“Stop the presses,” Ross yelled out in the John Paul Jones Arena press room.

Outscoring UVA, a 30.5-point favorite by the oddsmakers, was something the A&T coach could put in his hip pocket and take back to Greensboro. It was one of the few positives the 0-3 Aggies experienced in their visit.

A&T actually won the second half, 32-31, although Tony Bennett called off the dogs with plenty of time to go. Ross had two goals at halftime — win the second half and limit Virginia’s 3-point shots. Mission accomplished. The 3-0 Cavaliers were 0 for 5 from beyond the arc after the break.

The first half was quite different, as UVA rolled to a 49-19 advantage en route to an 80-51 win over this week’s Rent-A-Victim (see related story for a blow-by-blow account of the game).

These early season “buy” games are the kind of outings that Virginia coach Tony Bennett likes to experiment with different combinations, give players plenty of court time, and, of course, win.

He takes nothing for granted, but is a gracious winner. Thank you for coming, here’s your check, y’all come back.

Coming off an intense win over what appeared to be a quality opponent in Florida’s Gators last Friday night in Charlotte, Bennett wanted to make sure his team didn’t take A&T lightly, and the Cavaliers didn’t. They took care of business, as the only nervous souls in the waning moments were the sporting public as UVA failed to cover.

“That was kind of our biggest thing coming into this game, was not taking them lightly,” said UVA sophomore Ryan Dunn, who had 13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals in 21 minutes. “[A&T] was confident, so we had to come out and play. We just came out and was able to play our best defense and our best offense.”

Exactly what made Ross cringe, the thought of Virginia playing its best defense.

The A&T coach had brought a more experienced Delaware team here before, and so he knew precisely how UVA’s defense could devour a team of “babies,” as he put it.

“It’s not very pleasant to have to play against that defense,” Ross said, even though he believes it will make his team better down the road.

The Cavaliers were exactly who Ross thought they were. A&T made only 32 percent of its shots (17 for 53), even less from the arc (25.8 percent, 8 for 31), had 11 turnovers and gave up seven steals.

Bennett wanted to get certain things out of this game, and his team delivered. After getting spanked on the glass against Florida, rebounding was a point of emphasis and UVA won that battle over A&T by a 42-24 count, while also outscoring the Aggies 40-10 in the paint.

Senior guard Reece Beekman, who Ross referred to as the “proverbial head of the snake,” showed his fangs with 7 assists, 0 turnovers, 5 points, 4 rebounds and some suffocating defense.

Jacob Groves was close to a double-double with 11 points and 9 boards, while redshirt freshman Leon Bond III led the team in scoring (16 points) and shooting (8 of 10) in 19 minutes.

Bennett particularly wanted to watch Bond, Taine Murray and post man Jordan Minor, players who didn’t get much, if any, court time in Charlotte.

“We’ve got 10 scholarship guys that are activated and it’s always hard when you don’t play,” Bennett said. “Jordan didn’t play against Florida. Leon got a little bit. I just wanted to see him play really hard.

“Those reps are important, regardless of the score. It’s an inexperienced team. I mean with the way we started, one freshman (6-foot-11 Blake Buchanan made his first career start), three sophomores and Reece, the inexperience was there. I thought it was valuable to see (Minor, Bond and Murray). Are they in position? Are they alert? Because I think they all have opportunities to get out there, so those are valuable minutes.”

The experimentation will continue with a short turnaround to Thursday night when Texas Southern, a team that made last season’s NCAA Tournament and recently took Arizona State deep into the second half, comes to JPJ.