Cavaliers stick with four-guard look, finish strong for 78-68 win over Hokies

By Scott Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia Tech’s Mike Young has seen a lot of basketball throughout his 21-year coaching career, and he believes in-state rival Virginia is playing like the top team in the country.

“They’ve got a really good outfit,” Young said after his team fell, 78-68, at the hands of the 10th-ranked Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena Wednesday night. “I tell you what, if there’s 10 teams out there better than them nationally, I’d like to see them.”

On Wednesday, the Wahoos (14-3, 6-2 ACC) started the game strong and closed it out even stronger, brushing off a few Hokie scoring runs in between to eventually pull away for their fourth win in a row.

With former Virginia national champion Ty Jerome in attendance courtside along with his Golden State teammate Stephen Curry, all five Cavalier starters finished in double figures, as fifth-year floor general Kihei Clark led the charge with a game-high 20 points, while Armaan Franklin poured in 15, Jayden Gardner had 12, Reece Beekman chipped in 11 and Ben Vander Plas — who started his second-straight game in the middle — added 10.

That small-ball lineup has been impressive and highly effective across the recent Cavalier win streak, and Tony Bennett decided to stick with it against the Hokies (11-7, 1-6), who dropped their sixth contest in a row despite getting sharpshooter Hunter Cattoor back in the lineup after missing the previous four games with an injury.

“That’s four games now where we’ve played pretty good, and again, it’s just can you get rebounds and stop people — and maybe there’s a little more ball security with it — but that doesn’t mean we won’t have to play bigger at times,” Bennett said of the four-guard look.

That group helped build an early 19-10 advantage that the Cavaliers ultimately let slip away, as Tech responded with 11 unanswered points to lead, 21-19, by the under-8 media timeout.

Photo: UVA Athletics

It didn’t take long for the Hoos to regain control, as they closed the opening half on a 21-10 spurt from that point and led by nine, 40-31, at halftime, capped by a highlight-reel, buzzer-beating jam by Beekman that sent Virginia into the locker room on a high note.

As the Cavaliers struggled from the perimeter in the first half (3 of 11 from long range), they made up for it in the paint, outscoring the Hokies 26-6 down low. A lot of that was Clark, Beekman and Franklin driving the lane and finding spots for easy looks.

“I think the movement with Reece, Armaan and Ben when they’re inside, the screening and cutting — it’s some simple and some hard for the defenses to kind of just play against,” Clark said of all the moving parts.

Just past the midway point of the second half, Hokie forward Justyn Mutts scored on consecutive possessions to trim the UVA lead down to four, 59-55, and it looked as though it could be another nail-biting finish.

The Hoos scored three points on each of their next five baskets — a Clark 3-pointer; a Gardner and-1 off of a Beekman steal; an Isaac McKneely triple; another Clark 3; and a Beekman three-point play — to push the lead to 14, 74-60, with 3:52 remaining, and Virginia was able to hang on and win Round One of the Commonwealth Clash.

Virginia was 29 for 57 from the field on the evening (51 percent), including 8 for 23 (35 percent) from downtown, and made 12 of its 13 attempts from the charity stripe (92 percent).

The Hoos outrebounded the Hokies, 30-27, and scored 13 points off of 8 Tech turnovers, while only committing 5 turnovers themselves, a season low.

In addition to the scoring, Clark — who became the school’s all-time wins leader (111) and ACC wins leader (65) — dished out 5 assists and added 2 rebounds, a block and a steal, while Beekman produced a team-high 7 assists and grabbed 3 boards to go with a block and a steal of his own. Clark, Franklin and Vander Plas each knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, while Beekman and McKneely both sank one.

Vander Plas posted a team-high 7 rebounds and handed out 3 assists, while Franklin (5 rebounds) and Gardner (4 rebounds) helped out on the glass as well. McKneely finished with 7 points, while fellow freshman Ryan Dunn’s length was a factor on the defensive end, as he added a game-high 3 blocks, a pair of steals and 3 rebounds to go with his 3 points in 24-plus minutes. Kadin Shedrick didn’t attempt a shot and recorded a rebound and a steal in 4:20 off the bench.

Tech was led by Darius Maddox’s 13 points, as the entire Hokies starting five posted double figures as well (Grant Basile 12, Cattoor 11, Mutts and Sean Pedulla 10). The Hokies shot 49 percent (27 for 55) from the field and 44 percent (12 for 27) from 3-point land.

The teams will meet in Blacksburg in a few weeks on Feb. 4 at noon for the rematch.

Team Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • Head coach Tony Bennett recorded his 399th career win
  • Kihei Clark (111 wins) passed Mamadi Diakite (110 from 2017-20) for first on UVA’s career wins list
  • Clark (65 ACC wins) passed Diakite (64 from 2017-20) for first on UVA’s ACC career wins (regular season and ACC Tournament) list
  • UVA is 76-18 against teams from Virginia since 1999-00
  • UVA is 2-0 against the Commonwealth this season
  • UVA closed the first half on a 9-2 run and led 40-31
  • UVA started 5 of 8 from the field and led 11-2
  • Tech went on an 11-0 run to take a 21-19 lead
  • UVA had a 5:07 scoring drought during the Tech 11-0 run
  • UVA forced one shot-clock violation
  • Virginia is 153-11 when scoring at least 70 or more points under Tony Bennett
  • UVA is 9-0 when scoring 70 or more points in 2022-23
  • UVA had a season-low five turnovers

Series Notes

  • The Virginia-Virginia Tech game is part of the Smithfield Commonwealth Clash, which is a head-to-head, points-based athletics competition between the schools
  • The UVA-VT game is worth a half point in the Clash and the Cavaliers lead this year’s Clash 5.0-1.0.
  • Virginia is 97-58 all-time vs. Virginia Tech, including a 41-13 mark in Charlottesville, in the series that dates to 1914-15
  • The Cavaliers have a four-game home win streak vs. the Hokies at JPJ
  • Head coach Tony Bennett is 18-8 all-time vs. Virginia Tech

Player Notes

  • Double Figure Scorers: Kihei Clark (20), Armaan Franklin (15), Jayden Gardner (12), Reece Beekman (11), Ben Vander Plas (10)
  • Franklin has a seven-game double-figure streak and 46 career game with 10-plus points
  • Clark reached double figures for the 61st time
  • Gardner reached double figures for the 112th time
  • Beekman reached double figures for the 24th time
  • Vander Plas reached double figures for the 92nd time (7th at UVA)
  • Clark (4,811 minutes) passed Duke’s Bobby Hurley (4,802 from 1990-93) for third on the ACC’s career minutes-played list
  • Clark (1,278 points) passed Tony Laquintano (1,263 from 1975-78) for 29th on UVA’s al-time scoring list
  • UVA started Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Gardner and Vander Plas for the second-straight game

Virginia heads back down Tobacco Road for a Saturday tilt (2 p.m., ESPNU) with a red-hot Wake Forest team that has not lost all season in Winston-Salem (10-0).