Gillispie after Virginia: ‘That was a good old-fashioned butt-whippin’

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Jon Golden

Billy Clyde Gillispie has been around major college basketball for most of his life, so when he says his team was delivered a good old-fashioned butt-kicking by Virginia in Monday night’s season opener, he speaks with authority.

The former head coach at Kentucky, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, now guiding Tarleton State’s transition to Division-I hoops, made it quite clear that his Texans got their 10-gallon hats handed to them by the Cavaliers. It wasn’t the 80-50 outcome that bothered Gillispie so much as it was how UVA carved up his team.

Even though Tarleton is building a program for the future, they haven’t exactly been fodder over the past few seasons. Though short-handed — every Texan over 6-foot-6 stayed home in the Lone Star State with injuries — Gillispie expected more from his team.

“We’ve played three, four or five [games against top programs] every year, and really, that’s the worst performance that we’ve ever had,” Gillispie said. ‘I mean, we’ve played a lot of really great teams, top-10 teams to the wire … but we haven’t played a team that performed as well as Virginia tonight.”

Tarleton has played the likes of Kansas, Gonzaga, Michigan and others in recent years, but has never been dismantled quite the way the Cavaliers wrecked the Texans (see game story for the blow-by-blow account, box score, notes and highlights).

Meanwhile, Tony Bennett wasn’t really surprised by much. He already alerted us that this team would have great depth, more athleticism and versatility, in addition to boasting numerous shooters, something that was last season’s Achilles’ Heel.

Bennett played 10 guys, each one getting a minimum of 11 minutes of court time. Virginia shot 49 percent from the field, 45.5 from behind the arc (10 of 22 3’s) and a disappointing 61.5 percent from the free-throw line (24 of 39), prompting Billy Clyde to cornpone: “We didn’t foul them enough … they missed 15 foul shots … we should have put them on the line 20 more times and maybe that would have helped us a little bit.”

For the most part, Bennett liked how his team played hard, liked the chemistry of the new players blending with the returnees, liked 6-foot-10 freshman center Blake Buchanan’s mobility down low, liked the way redshirt freshman Leon Bond III brought a spark off the bench (12 points, 9 rebounds) liked point guard Reece Beekman’s complete game. Check out this linescore for Beekman: 5 of 9 from the field, 6 of 7 free throws, game-high 16 points, game-high 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 0 turnovers, team-high 3 steals in 27 minutes.

“It was all started by 2 (Beekman),” Gillispie was quick to point out. “We knew going in that if you let him catch the ball and run the game …” He didn’t finish the sentence and didn’t have to. “That’s a performance. Totally under control, totally dominated the whole game. He made it easy for a lot of people.”

That’s exactly what Bennett wanted to see from his senior point guard, who nearly went to the NBA and was perhaps the most aggressive with the ball in his hands Monday that Virginia fans have seen from him.

Then there was McKneely, who led the 3-point barrage (4 of 8 personally) for 15 points. Transfers Jacob Groves (3 triples) and Andre Rohde (two more) added to the assault as starters, along with Buchanan, McKneely and Beekman.

Oh, and the defense. Can’t forget the defense, the very lifeblood of the program, something Bennett stresses every day in practice.

Virginia held Tarleton to 33-percent shooting (16 of 48), even worse from the arc (3 of 13), forcing 16 turnovers that translated into 14 Wahoo points and 9 UVA steals.

What Gillispie feared most was his team’s inability to take away some of Virginia’s strengths in the game. He researched the Wahoos well, knew and game-planned on how to ambush them, but didn’t even come close to executing his points of emphasis.

All that left the veteran coach even more impressed by the Cavaliers, who would have no part in the Texans’ plot to make them sweat.

Gillispie wanted to take the ball out of Beekman’s hands. Couldn’t do it.

He didn’t want Virginia’s perimeter shooters to catch the ball, and even if they did, he wanted to guard them closely. Didn’t do it.

“Let [the perimeter shooters] go from one side to the other, and if they can penetrate, you’re going to be in a bind,” Gillispie said. “So they’ll make shots all year long if someone defends them like we did.”

He didn’t want Virginia to spread the floor and drive the ball. Couldn’t stop it.

Bennett, pleased with the opener, knows it won’t be so easy on Friday when Virginia meets a more elite opponent, when the Cavaliers meet Florida in neutral-court Charlotte. The Gators have carved up the Cavaliers in two postseason matchups, something UVA hasn’t forgotten.