No. 3 UVA survives another scare from JMU, ekes out 55-50 win to stay unbeaten

By Scott Ratcliffe

Virginia’s Ryan Dunn rocks the rim in the first half against JMU. (Photo by Jon Golden)

For a second-straight season, Virginia got a scare from in-state foe James Madison; this time around, the No. 3 Cavaliers buckled down in the waning moments. UVA got a huge play from freshman forward Ryan Dunn to take control late, and slammed the door shut on the defensive end, walking away with a 55-50 win at John Paul Jones Arena Tuesday night.

Playing nearly the entire game without star point guard Reece Beekman — who left the floor with a hamstring injury with still 16:12 left in the opening half and didn’t return — the Cavaliers (8-0) built a first-half lead, but the Dukes (7-3) kept chipping away and stayed within striking distance.

Seniors Kihei Clark and Jayden Gardner carried the shorthanded Wahoos in the second half, scoring 22 of the team’s 28 points and coming up with big play after big play, but they got some help when it mattered most.

Clark scored on a tough drive to the hole with 4:08 to go, giving the Cavaliers a somewhat-comfortable 51-43 edge, but the Dukes, perhaps flashing back to last year’s upset of the Hoos in Harrisonburg, again refused to throw in the towel.

Down by six with two minutes to play, JMU’s leading scorer, Takal Molson, scored on a twisting drive to the hole and was fouled, but missed the ensuing free throw. Still, it was a just four-point UVA lead, and after a Ben Vander Plas miss on the other end, Molson got past Dunn and to the bucket to trim the lead to 52-50 with exactly one minute remaining. That capped a 7-1 Dukes run, and had the JPJ crowd feeling a little nervous.

But on the next trip down the floor, the Cavaliers worked it around and shed some precious seconds off the clock before Dunn found himself with the ball in his hands and the game on the line. 

The 6-foot-8 Freeport, N.Y., native caught a pass from Clark on the right wing in front of the visitors bench with 38 seconds on the game clock and 8 on the shot clock, got right past his initial defender, JMU’s Vado Morse, and leapt towards the rim, double-clutching to get around oncoming help-defender Tyree Ihenacho, taking the contact and putting the Hoos up by 4 with 35 ticks showing.

Morse then misfired on a 3-point attempt, but Dunn couldn’t corral the rebound, and the Dukes still had life with 16.1 seconds left. Molson wound up with the ball on the ensuing inbounds pass from underneath, but Dunn locked down defensively and forced a bad-pass turnover out of bounds, and Virginia was able to escape with the win.

Dunn just about tore the roof off of the building in the first half, as Gardner came away with a steal and found Clark on the fast break. Clark then dropped off a perfect bounce pass to Dunn, who gathered it in stride and stuffed it home with authority, and the crowd went bananas as UVA took an early 17-10 lead.

The Hoos led by as many as 11 in the opening frame, but the Dukes were able to trim it to seven, 27-20, by halftime. The Wahoo lead was cut to four midway through the second half, and then Molson tied it up at 42-apiece on a 3-pointer with 7:51 on the clock.

Virginia went over five minutes without a field-goal make until back-to-back Gardner baskets gave the Hoos a little bit of breathing room and a 47-42 advantage after splitting a pair of free throws with 5:48 to go. The Dukes gave it all they had, but UVA dug deep and gutted out the hard-fought win, and will now have 10 days before a possible 1-versus-2 matchup at JPJ on Dec. 17 against Houston.

It wasn’t by any means pretty Tuesday night, as Virginia shot just 42 percent from the field (19 for 45) and 24 percent (5 for 21) from downtown, along with an uncharacteristic 12-for-24 performance from the free-throw line.

Bennett attributed some of the late misses from the stripe to fatigue, but the Hoos left the door wide open for trouble in the process. Virginia was also outrebounded for the third-straight game, 41-33, and committed nine turnovers on the night — seven after halftime — and most all of them came at inopportune times.

Still, the Hoos prevailed to stay unbeaten thanks to Clark’s team-high 18 points and game-high 7 assists, along with Gardner’s 14 points and game-highs of 8 rebounds and 2 takeaways. Armaan Franklin finished with 8 points, knocking down a pair of triples in the first half, while Kadin Shedrick grabbed 5 rebounds and blocked a game-high 4 shots. 

Molson scored all but two of his game-high 20 points in the second half to lead the Dukes, who shot just 27 percent on the night (15 for 55 FG) and 30 percent (7 for 23) from downtown. They came in averaging a nation-best 93 points per game.

Team Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • UVA is 8-0 for the first time since starting 16-0 in 2018-19
  • Virginia is 5-0 at John Paul Jones Arena
  • UVA is 75-18 against teams from Virginia since 1999-00.
  • UVA has won 28 of its last 34 games against teams from Virginia.
  • UVA led 27-20 at the half
  • The 20 first-half points allowed were a season-low for UVA
  • JMU tied the game at 42-42 before Jayden Gardner scored five straight points

Bennett Wins Watch

  • Tony Bennett (324-117, 14 seasons) needs three wins to pass Terry Holland (326-173, 16 seasons) as the all-time winningest coach at UVA
  • Bennett (393-150) needs seven wins to reach 400 career wins

Series Notes

  • Virginia is 12-1 all-time against JMU in the series that dates to the 1977-78 season
  • The Cavaliers are 8-0 against the Dukes in Charlottesville
  • Virginia head coach Tony Bennett is 4-1 all-time against JMU

Player Notes

  • Double Figure Scorers: Kihei Clark (18), Jayden Gardner (14)
  • Reece Beekman left the game with an injury in the first half and did not return
  • Clark reached double figures for the 55th time
  • Clark is tied for third with Malcolm Brogdon on UVA’s career games list with 136
  • Clark is tied for ninth with Harold Deane on UVA’s career starts list with 116
  • Clark (1,175) ranks 40th on UVA’s all-time scoring list with 1,157 points
  • Gardner reached double figures for the 107th time
  • Kadin Shedrick (4 blocks) recorded his 25th career multi-block game
  • Shedrick has eight blocks in the past two games
  • Ryan Dunn played a season-high 19 minutes and contributed four points, five rebounds and three blocks