Virginia offense prevails against Hokies in battle of two strong defenses

By Kenneth Cross Correspondent

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia and Virginia Tech entered their first matchup of the season as the No. 4 and No. 6 defenses in the ACC, and once the game began, an offensive amendment allowed the Cavaliers to get past the Hokies, 78-68, in Charlottesville on Wednesday evening.

The pace and play of this game made it potentially the most stylistic of the Cavaliers’ home outings so far. Virginia shot 50.9 percent from the floor, making 29 field goals, as eight of those came from 3-point range.

Virginia’s starting five is comprised of solid players who have a variety of experience and ways they can beat a defense.

“I liked when we played on two feet and under control and found some nice drop-offs and good decisions,” said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett.

Virginia took a quick 11-2 lead by attacking the basket with layups as Armaan Franklin had a pair in the early going. Franklin was one of the five Cavaliers in double figures with 15 points while Ben Vander Plas had 11, as two of his four baskets were 3-pointers.

“You’re always looking for things that can feed into their strengths,” said Bennett, said of his offensive attack. “We’ve used it in past teams in past years. But those guys, I think it fits them well. “It’s good because it gives a variety of looks.”

Bennett also explained that the new offensive approach had freed up Franklin, with Vander Plas becoming someone who can stretch a defense with his 3-point shots.

Franklin gave Virginia the lead for good at 26-24 with 5:02 remaining in the first half when he scored off the right box and made a free throw after he was fouled.

“There are some good things that we can put different guys in it, but I am sure some teams will guard in different ways and others will have to adjust,” said Bennett.

Jayden Gardner and Reece Beekman scored 12 and 11 points, respectively. Gardner hit a 15-footer off the left baseline while he netted a hook shot on the left box to give the Cavaliers a 23-21 lead with 6:54 to play.

While he has averaged the lowest total in his career thus far at 10.3 points per outing, Gardner has become a person who thinks the game and then reacts with what is usually the most productive response.

Wednesday evening, he was 5 of 6 from the field in 22 minutes and he scored on the right baseline with a jumper as Virginia was able to maintain a 48-44 advantage early in the first half.

“Somehow the ball is in my hands a lot and I just try to give whatever the team needs me to,” said Gardner, who has shot 51.2 percent from the field.

Beekman has gotten better and better since his hamstring injury. His dunk right at halftime gave Virginia a 40-31 lead and brought Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry out of his seat. Curry had traveled to the game with former Virginia guard Ty Jerome, who is now a role player for the Warriors.

All of the faster tempo and offensive acumen proliferated underneath the watchful eye of point guard Kihei Clark, who led the Cavaliers with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting with a pair of 3s and five assists, and just one turnover in 35 minutes.

The victory was Clark’s 111th, as he became the program’s winningest player, controlling the game on both ends of the floor.

“For us, just taking good shots and then our 3-game was kind of clicking, and we were just playing off each other,” said Clark.

Clark was able to get to the rim off the drive repeatedly and scored five baskets via that attack. He also hit a pair of triples that helped give Virginia a 74-60 lead with 3:52 to play.

A huge key in the game was a lack of turnovers by both the Cavaliers and Hokies, as Virginia had only five turnovers while Virginia Tech had just eight.

“Both of us tried to do some similar things,” explained Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. “Both of us tried to jam the lane and make it hard. We are not out there denying and pressuring passing lanes, but there’s a lot of traffic when you put it on the floor.”