Joe Harris posted a career-high 24 points.
One week after giving up the most points in the Tony Bennett era, Virginia flipped the script and scored the most points in the second-year coach’s tenure thanks to a truly impressive sharp-shooting effort. The Cavaliers made 10 of 13 3-pointers and 25 of 30 free throws on Monday night en route to 87-79 win at No. 15 Minnesota in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. UVa handed the Gophers their first loss of the season and their first non-conference home loss (now 27-1) under Tubby Smith.
After a tough road trip to Stanford and the Maui Invitational, Bennett was happy to see his team respond down the stretch this time around.
“Had we not played in Maui or at Stanford, I don’t know that we would have been as ready for this,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “I think we were somewhat battle-tested and didn’t fold when there were a couple of chances to fold. At the 10-minute mark in the Stanford game and the 10-minute mark in the Wichita State game, we let the game slip away. I thought we got tougher [this time]. They missed some shots, but we executed and that was nice to see.”
UVa capitalized on two incredible shooting nights in particular as a senior and a freshman helped outduel the Golden Gophers. Keeping the visitors in the game in the first half, senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan poured in a career-high 23 points in the win. He made 4 of 5 3-pointers (ties a career-high for made 3’s) and 3 of 4 free throws on the night; he also added 5 rebounds and 4 assists with 0 turnovers. Farrakhan helped the Hoos hang around on the scoreboard before intermission by scoring 14 of the team’s 29 first-half points; Virginia trailed by 10 at halftime but was within striking distance thanks to Farrakhan’s shooting efforts.
UVa’s Mustapha Farrakhan scored 23 points in the win at Minnesota.
“When I was coming off of screens, I had seen that I was pretty open and my man was a step behind,” Farrakhan said on the radio broadcast. “I just tried to get my feet set. Coach is telling me a lot about getting my feet set and when I get my feet set, I’m usually a real good shooter. Once I saw the first one go down, the second one go down, I kind of just told myself to remember that rhythm. After I saw a couple of them go down, I was like OK, I’m locked in and my teammates did a great job of finding me.”
On the other end of the experience scale, Joe Harris ripped the nets for a career-high 24 points. Harris made 4 of 6 3-pointers and 4 of 4 free throws to help pace the Cav offense. He chipped in 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal as well. The freshman forward executed a beautiful shot fake, one-dribble jumper midway through the second half to seesaw the Hoos into the lead at 53-52 – that proved to be the fifth and final lead change of the second half as UVa eventually secured the win.
Harris’ made bucket came in the midst of a 20-5 Cavalier run early in the second half. The Cavaliers’ took their first lead after intermission on a Will Sherill 3-pointer, which capped a 12-1 surge that erased the halftime deficit and pushed the Hoos into the lead. That 12-1 burst eventually ballooned to 20-5 and 31-7 as the Cavaliers moved ahead 68-14 on a Farrakhan lay-up.
While the visitors’ shooting prowess undoubtedly helped, what really sparked the turn-around between the two halves was a furious Bennett timeout. After they had cut the lead to 42-37 on a Harris triple, the Cavaliers gave up a long 3-pointer in defensive transition off the made basket. Bennett signaled for the timeout and lit up his team in a heated huddle.
And why not? The same issue had been a first-half problem when Virginia displayed no urgency on the defensive end, particularly after made baskets, and Minnesota scorched the nets with 58% shooting. The 3-pointer from Blake Hoffarber (19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) in this case sent Bennett over the edge because it was a repeated mistake – this shot marked the fifth time in the game that UVa followed a deficit-trimming possession with a near immediate defensive lapse. Virginia’s 12-1 and longer surge came after the course-correcting timeout; UVa eventually held the hosts to 44% shooting after halftime.
“We got a little frazzled in the first half, gave up transition buckets and started the second half the same way,” Bennett said. “Then we settled in and a number of guys had some big-time games.”
The other critical piece of the Hoos’ second-half success came at the free-throw line. Virginia made 22 of 26 free throws in the second half, including several in the final two minutes with Minnesota fouling in a comeback effort. For the game, UVa made 83% of the freebies (25-30). The Golden Gophers, meanwhile, made just 12 of 20 free throws on the night – they missed the front end of all three second-half 1-and-1 attempts, all of which came during the Cavs’ crucial run.
Among the Cavaliers standouts at the line were post players Assane Sene and Mike Scott. Sene came up with three offensive rebounds and subsequent foul line trips after Sherrill departed with an injury (Sherrill left the game with an injury near the 11:00 mark and was to have x-rays for the injury); Sene finished 7 of 8 from the charity stripe to post 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block. Scott had one of his biggest free throws of the game in the final two minutes shortly after Minnesota had cut the lead to 73-67; Scott made a strong post move to the middle of the paint, landed on a jump stop with a shot fake, and drew the whistle on Trevor Mbakwe (18 points, 11 rebounds). Scott made the shot and the free throw to give the Hoos control for good. He made 5 of 6 free throws on the night and finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 assists, the third straight double-double for the senior and the 22nd of his career.
While happy with the win thanks to the free throws and the overall performance, Bennett said the Cavaliers need to stay focused on improving as the days click off the calendar this season.
“I said you treat winning and losing as imposters and keep falling in love with the process and keep getting better and better,” Bennett said.