Second-half explosion lifts Virginia to 65-58 win over UNC

By Scott Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

With the help of a crucial 17-2 second-half scoring run, the 13th-ranked Virginia men’s basketball team clawed its way back to make it eight home wins in a row against ACC foe North Carolina at John Paul Jones Arena with a 65-58 triumph on Tuesday night.

Trailing by five with just over 15 minutes to play, the Cavaliers (12-3, 4-2 ACC) stuck with a small lineup for the remainder of the game, and it paid huge dividends. The four-guard look of Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Isaac McKneely and Armaan Franklin joined Ben Vander Plas and closed the contest out from there, outscoring the Tar Heels 34-18 over the final 15:12 of the game, which included a late Carolina run that made it a one-possession affair with a minute to play.

But the Wahoos saved their best for last, and it all started with their defense. Leading 61-58, Beekman got free off a screen for a powerful rim-rattling dunk as JPJ exploded and UVA stretched the lead to five with 35 seconds to go. After the Hoos forced a held ball on the other end, Vander Plas then put the icing on the cake with a steal off the ensuing UNC inbounds pass, taking it coast to coast for another ferocious jam with just 22 seconds remaining, blowing the lid off of the building.

If that weren’t enough, Clark picked the pocket of RJ Davis on the game’s final possession for the cherry on top, as Tony Bennett high-fived his fifth-year point guard while the last few seconds ticked off the clock.

“We were trying to put pressure on the rim, and game’s kind of ebb-and-flow, and certain things work offensively, or get you good looks; some things don’t look so good,” Bennett said. “We were struggling really to shoot the ball and score in that first half and parts of the second, and then we said let’s go small and take a look at a few things. And I think it just started opening things up [with] the ability to get to the rim.”

Carolina’s reigning ACC Player of the Year, senior center Armando Bacot, was injured in the opening 1:18 of the contest as he went to the floor in pain. Bacot, who is leading the league with 18.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, did not return for the Tar Heels, who were already without another starter, Northwestern transfer forward Pete Nance, due to a back ailment.

As a result, it opened the door for UNC freshman forward Jalen Washington, who came into the game averaging just 2.2 ppg in 3.3 minutes in six games so far.

It was a game of runs, as UVA grabbed an early 10-3 advantage before the Heels stormed back with a 21-5 spurt of their own over the next nine-plus minutes to take a 24-15 lead on a Leaky Black corner triple late in the opening half. From there, Virginia finished the half on a 12-5 run over the last 3:32 to pull within two, 29-27, at the break.

The visitors led, 36-31, when the most recent Cavalanche began. Davis split a pair of free throws out of the under-16-minute media break to make it a six-point contest, but the Hoos kept knocking.

After a pair of Vander Plas free throws and a miss on the opposite end by former Cavalier forward Justin McKoy, Franklin registered his first field-goal make of the night, after going 0 for 7 from the field (0 of 6 from deep) prior to that bucket, which cut the UNC lead to 37-35.

Davis answered with a 3-pointer, but Franklin followed that up with a powerful follow slam to reenergize the crowd.

The Heels gave it right back with a turnover, as Beekman trimmed the Cavalier deficit to a single point on a nice double-clutch move, and then Vander Plas simply caught fire. The Ohio grad transfer was off to another poor start shooting-wise, going 1 for 4 — all from long range — for 3 points across the opening 20 minutes.

Vander Plas put the Hoos on top, 42-40, with a 3-ball, capping a spurt of 7 unanswered points in a matter of just over a minute, but that wasn’t all. 

Beekman just missed on what would’ve been a highlight-reel dunk, but was fouled and sank both free throws. On the next trip down, Vander Plas cleaned up Beekman’s miss with another ferocious dunk putback, and the house was rocking with UVA ahead by six, 46-40, with 11:20 remaining.

Davis finally scored to end the 11-0 Cavalier flurry, but then McKneely and Vander Plas connected on back-to-back 3s to extend the lead to double digits, 52-42, to cap the game-changing run.

Vander Plas poured in 14 of his game-high 17 points after halftime, shooting 5 for 6 overall and 2 for 3 from downtown.

“Obviously the last couple of weeks shooting, offensively, haven’t been the greatest for me, but just continuing to work at it,” said Vander Plas, who credited assistant coaches Johnny Carpenter and Isaiah Wilkins for his second-half scoring barrage. “Shout out to Johnny and Isaiah — they’re in the gym with me every day shooting, and everybody is always telling me to ‘keep shooting, keep shooting,’ almost to the point where it gets like, ‘I got it, guys,’ but they stay on me. And then yeah, just to see that first one go in, got a couple of free throws, and then just once you see the first one go in, the confidence goes up, so that was fun.”

BVP finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds to go along with an assist, 3 blocks and a pair of steals in 27 minutes off the bench. Beekman added 13 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, a block and a game-high 5 steals.

“I definitely felt like we had kind of a different rhythm going with the guys on the court at the time,” Beekman said of the crucial stretch run. “We were kind of all in sync with the offense. We were running the way we were, getting open shots, and it was definitely a grind towards the end. Everybody was tired, I felt like, so it’s just we worked hard a lot this offseason just for moments like this, to be able to withstand those long moments and being able to play this type of minutes, and so it definitely, definitely paid off today.”

Franklin finished with 12 points (4 for 13, 0 for 5 from downtown), a game-high 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. McKneely sank 3 of his 4 3-point attempts for 11 points in 21 minutes. Clark chipped in with 7 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.

The Cavaliers didn’t get much out of Jayden Gardner (3 points on 1-of-2 shooting, 1 rebound in 15 minutes) or Kadin Shedrick (2 points on 1-of-2 shooting, 2 rebounds and a block in 18 minutes), but the backcourt production helped make up for it.

UVA shot 46 percent (24 for 52), 32 percent from long distance (6 for 19) and 58 percent from the line (11 for 19). The Cavaliers were outrebounded, 36-32. Virginia scored 19 points off of 13 Carolina turnovers, and outscored the Heels 32-20 in the paint and 10-2 in transition. UVA recorded 9 steals and 8 blocks on the night.

UNC shot 40 percent (21 for 53), 33 percent from 3 (8 of 24) and 67 percent (8 of 12) from the stripe. Davis scored a team-high 16 points, while Love and Washington each added 13 in the loss. The two teams will square off again in Chapel Hill on Feb. 25.

Team Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • No. 13 Virginia (12-3, 4-2 ACC) ended its two-game losing streak vs. North Carolina (11-6, 3-3 ACC)
  • UVA has an eight-game home win streak vs. UNC
  • UVA is an ACC-leading 81-13 in league home games over the past 11 seasons
  • UVA gained a 46-40 lead after an 11-0 run
  • UVA held UNC scoreless for the first 4:48 of the game
  • UNC’s Armando Bacot left the game at 18:41 of the first half and didn’t return
  • UNC went on a 9-0 run take a 12-10 lead
  • UVA trailed 29-27 at halftime
  • UVA forced one shot clock violation
  • UVA shot 53.6 percent in the second half (15 of 28) after shooting 37.5 percent (9 of 24) in the first stanza

Series Notes

  • UVA is 61-133 all-time vs. North Carolina in the series that dates to 1910-11
  • Virginia is 38-44 all-time vs. the Tar Heels in Charlottesville
  • Bennett is 13-10 all-time vs. North Carolina, including a loss as head coach of Washington State in the 2008 NCAA Sweet 16

Player Notes

  • Double Figure Scorers: Ben Vander Plas (17), Reece Beekman (13), Armaan Franklin (12), Isaac McKneely (11)
  • Vander Plas reached double figures for the 90th time (5th at UVA)
  • Beekman reached double figures for the 23rd time
  • Franklin reached double figures for the 44th time
  • McKneely reached double figures for the third time
  • Franklin had career highs in rebounds (3) and blocks (3)
  • Vander Plas had a career-high three blocks
  • McKneely is 12 of 21 from 3-point range in his past three games
  • Clark (4,740 minutes) passed Duke’s J.J. Redick (4,732 from 2003-06) for sixth on the ACC’s career minutes played list
  • Clark (1,249 points) passed Marc Iavaroni (1,244 from 1975-78) for 30th on UVA’s all-time scoring list

The Cavaliers travel to face Florida State in Tallahassee Saturday at 4 p.m., looking for the season sweep of the Seminoles after winning 62-57 on Dec. 3 at JPJ.