Cavaliers’ new players will be dynamic additions

By Kenneth Cross Correspondent

UVA newcomers Ben Vander Plas (5) and Isaac McKneely (11) got solid minutes in the season opener. (Photo by Jon Golden)

The Virginia Cavaliers’ starting five will be able to match up with generally the entire schedule. However, role players off the bench will be important as the schedule defines some rigorous non-conference matchups and ACC battles.

In Monday night’s 73-61 win over MEAC challenger North Carolina Central, coach Tony Bennett saw transfer Ben Vander Plas and freshman Isaac McKneely play some solid minutes.

In addition to a two-minute flurry from sophomore Taine Murray, who played limited minutes last season, it was a rotation that gave Virginia several dynamics in fighting off the pesky Eagles.

“We gave Taine some minutes, just a few minutes, and Isaac McNeely, who’s played well in the summer and all that’s again, against a team that puts that kind of pressure on the ball and in the passing lanes,” explained Bennett.

Virginia built a 31-15 lead in the first half behind the shooting of Armaan Franklin, who led four Cavaliers in double figures with 21 points. However, the speed and quickness of North Carolina Central allowed them to storm back and outscore Virginia, 17-5, out of halftime.

The Eagles took their first lead at 44-43 on a layup by guard Eric Boone with 14:24 remaining in the game.

“They will test you and they will want to make you patient and if they will transition, great,” said Bennett. “They have a ton of good actions and sometimes they will set the ball screens and then slip them.”

Virginia immediately answered with a 15-2 run where Vander Plas scored on a 3-point field goal after a Francisco Caffaro layup.

Vander Plas, who transferred from Ohio University where he averaged 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, had seven points and four boards in 23 minutes.

“We are demanding and asking for different things, so there is still an adjustment and for Ben, it’s a bigger adjustment,” said Bennett.

Vander Plas was all-MAC last season, as he set his own high marks in scoring, rebounding, and steals.

Virginia has four freshmen placed on its roster as this group will be a key in the rotation, and as Bennett sees it, solid play from the new players on the bench will be key in moving the No. 18 Cavaliers forward.

The Cavaliers’ head coach, now in his 14th season, gave McNeely and Vander Plas 23 minutes each as both players were solid in their first roles as Cavaliers.

Vander Plas scored 7 points on 2 of 5 shooting (2 of 4 from the arc), and made 1 of 2 free throws. He pulled down 4 rebounds, had 2 assists, a steal and a blocked shot. Meanwhile, McNeely was 1 of 4 shooting (all from the 3-point line), had 3 points and a rebound.

“Those are good experiences for Isaac and Ben being there,” Bennett stated. “Just because I didn’t play the other guys, there will be opportunities, I believe, for them, and it’s nice to have options.”

The Cavaliers look to improve on shooting 44.9 percent from the field last season as they made only 23.3 of 52 field goals, on average. They also only had two players off of the bench average double figures in minutes.

“Last year was a challenge and I think the two areas that have improved are, and I don’t know if we are a great outside shooting team, but better, and we have more depth,” said Bennett. “Those are two more important things and we were close many times.”