Dunn’s two highlights help lift No. 3 UVA over JMU, gives glimpses of future

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Ryan Dunn drives to the hole for the game-sealing bucket in the closing seconds against JMU. (Photo by Jon Golden)

Coming out of a timeout with only 60 seconds to play, Virginia freshman Ryan Dunn lurked deep in the right corner of the floor, anticipating a pass from veteran teammate Kihei Clark.

Clark spotted Dunn open and quickly zipped a pass to him, then watched as the New York phenom drove the baseline, double-clutched and laid in a shot off the glass that iced No. 3 Virginia’s 55-50 win over a determined James Madison team. For Cavalier fans, it’s not too late to buy Dunn stock.

So what that he scored only four points in UVA’s win? They were four of the most amazing Wahoo points of the night, as the Cavaliers remained unbeaten as they head off into an 11-day exam break before hosting No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

Earlier in the game, Dunn’s thundering, two-hand slam dunk over JMU’s Mezie Offurum blew up the John Paul Jones’ “Noise Meter,” on a spoon fed assist by — you guessed it — Clark on a fast break (see video below).

Dunn’s dunk was part of an 11-3 Virginia run that gave the Cavaliers a 24-13 lead over the Dukes.

JMU (7-3) fought back and took Virginia nearly to the wire in a defensive slugfest. The Dukes entered the night as the nation’s leading scorers, averaging 93 points per game. No way was that going to continue against Tony Bennett’s “Pack-Line” defense, annually one of the nation’s stingiest groups.

Dunn’s contributions were huge for the 8-0 Cavaliers after the team’s starting point guard, Reece Beekman, left the game only three minutes in with a reported hamstring issue on top of an injured ankle.

From that point on, Dunn (season-high 19 minutes) and fellow freshman guard Isaac McKneely (26 minutes) helped fill in against the upset-minded Dukes in Beekman’s absence. For the record, Dunn had four points (2 of 5 from the field), added five rebounds and blocked three shots. McKneely also scored four points (1 of 5 from beyond the arc and a free throw), and added an assist and a steal.

No, their numbers weren’t mindblowing, but their hints of what they will mean to this club the rest of the season must be scary for opposing coaches.

“McNeely is aggressive and he’s gonna be really good … he’s not scared,” said JMU coach Mark Byington. “A lot of his threes that missed, I was taking a deep breath of silence because it looked like they were going in.”

Had more of them fallen, there probably wouldn’t have been a need for Dunn’s heroics at the end. Dunn had crept open on the baseline several times, but much closer in than the last basket, anticipating a Clark laser pass.

“Dunn is going to be a really good player,” Byington said. “He is so long and athletic and in their defensive system, he’s going to be terrific.”

Ryan Dunn soars to the basket for an electrifying dunk against JMU. (Photo by Jon Golden)

The 6-foot-8 Dunn has already been compared to former Virginia star De’Andre Hunter at a similar age by Monmouth coach King Rice earlier this season. Need we say more?

For a freshman who hadn’t played that much to display that type of awareness of the moment, that assertiveness, spoke volumes.

“He ripped baseline and his length is real (seven-foot wingspan),” Bennett said of Dunn. “That was a heck of a play. He hung in the air and finished it.

“Those are great opportunities for young men like Isaac McNeely and Dunn to be in an intense game like that as first-years. For those two young guys to be in these settings and hold their own was really good for them.”

Bennett pointed out Dunn’s versatility on both ends of the floor and that he made some big throws in UVA’s close win over Florida State last Saturday. 

Dunn wasn’t completely flawless, having been beaten to the basket by JMU’s Takal Molson (game-high 20 points) to cut UVA’s lead to only 52-50, but the freshman more than made up for it.

“I was kinda mad at myself,” Dunn said afterward. “I knew we needed to get a stop during that time. So I was trusting myself to slide and he made a good move. I just decided if I get it, I can be aggressive and I ripped baseline and scored.

“I was like kind of hyping myself, just patting myself on the back because as a freshman, you make mistakes like that.”

The sequence of end-game events by Dunn was more than OK with fifth-year teammate Jayden Gardner.

“I love it,” Gardner said. “Guys getting an opportunity. With Reece unable to go after he got injured, we had young guys step up. I’ve been talking about it since the beginning of the season, this team is very deep. They rose to the occasion.”

Ryan Dunn. Buy stock now.