McKneely terrorizing Virginia’s opponents with his 3’s

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photos: UVA Athletics

Isaac McKneely has been Virginia’s greatest import from across the state border with West Virginia since Jimmy Miller more than 40 years ago. Growing up in Poca, West Virginia, where he was a hometown hero playing for the Poca Dots, McKneely naturally followed the WVU Mountaineers.

When it came time to choose a college, McKneely couldn’t resist picking Tony Bennett’s program. Talk about a player who fits Bennett’s culture, McKneely is a perfect fit. Not only is he an outstanding player, but an All-ACC Academic selection, strong in the community.

The 6-foot-4 shooting guard’s Virginia address is 333 Bonusphere, where he thrives behind the 3-point arc, terrorizing opponents. While he was solid as a freshman last season, playing in 33 games with one start and shooting 39 percent from downtown, Cavalier fans are seeing an even better version of “iMac,” this time around.

McKneely, with his 6-for-8 performance from behind the arc in UVA’s pummeling of visiting Syracuse on Saturday, will be a topic of conversation for upcoming opponents when they pull up scouting video on the Wahoos. With a career-high 22 points, McKneely is now making 54.3 percent of his 3-point attempts. Those are scary numbers.

“When you see that first one go down, you get a good feeling, and then the second one and the third one, so I just kept letting it fly,” McKneely said after leading Virginia to its 16th-straight win in ACC openers.

He attributes his early success this season to working hard on all aspects of his game in the offseason and putting in extra work this season after practice. They almost have to run him out of JPJ.

“Coach Bennett and all the other coaches really work with me on my shot, just trying to perfect it … the little things,” McKneely said. “I’m just shooting with more confidence this year, taking the parking brake off, and when you get in the flow of the game, you just let them fly without thinking.”

His reference to taking the parking brake off is a big deal. Bennett pointed out that last season, with McKneely being a newcomer, he often deferred to some of his more-experienced teammates. Now, even though he’s a sophomore, he’s the second-most experienced player in Virginia’s offensive system.

Now, he’s the hunter, hunting shots against defenses that lose sight of him, if only for a second.

Syracuse coach Adrian Autry noticed that throughout the game.

“[McKneely’s] constantly moving and maybe we lost him a couple of times,” Autry said.

At other times, the Orange knew exactly where the UVA sniper was. Still couldn’t stop him.

“One thing I’ll say is he’s definitely extended his range,” Autry said. “He made some bombs out there, two or three bombs. That last shot he made, he took a step back and that was pretty contested. When he made that one in the first half, he was almost at half court, it was at the end of the shot clock. He’s a tough cover.”

McKneely did all of his damage in only 26 minutes, 26 seconds, exiting with the Cavaliers up comfortably in the second half. Of those 26 minutes, 18 of them were in the first half when he scored 16 points.

Bennett pointed out that it was great to see McKneely’s progression, not just behind the arc, but mixing up a few 2-pointers as well, and his defense. McKneely is usually assigned the opponents’ No. 2 scorer, a test he enjoys. Behind the line, Bennett likes that the sophomore is getting a “nice feel for where his shots are.”

While his bread and butter is the long-range shooting, McKneely enjoys the fact that he’s getting more responsibility on the other end of the floor.

“I think I’ve definitely gotten better [defensively],” he said. “I was alright last year, but I feel like I’ve just gotten a lot more athletic this year, a little bigger, put on some weight. I had a couple of breakdowns today, but for the most part, I think I’ve definitely gotten better.

“I’m glad Coach Bennett puts faith in me to guard the other team’s second-best player. Reece [Beekman] is always going to guard the best player.”