The Virginia basketball program hadn’t experienced a loss in the Thanksgiving timeframe since 2011 when a trip to the Virgin Islands started sourly. That string of success screeched to a halt Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Cavaliers sprinted to an early lead, but then sunk into a sluggish performance and lost a close 61-60 game to San Francisco.
The Hoos are 1-1 this season after a comfortable win against Towson on Wednesday. They own a 67-12 non-conference record in November under Tony Bennett. So after an unusual loss at this time of year, fans were a little rattled in their postgame reaction but Bennett dialed in on the process.
“Look at it in the mirror, grow from it. Forget about it,” Bennett said. “If you at all think ‘oh we won the first game handily and look at our ranking’, I mean we’ve all been down that road. That means nothing to start. We have to keep being as good as we can be, and that’s just not coach speak. We got to kind of harden up, we got to get gritty, we got to be tougher to score against and be the best version of ourselves. Nothing is assumed, just because of what’s on the front of your jersey. You just work and I think some of the concerns or question marks we had showed and they didn’t get answered. We now go to work and say, ‘What can we do to be better’. And use this in the best way possible, and that’s all I know how to do.”
When the dust settled, it clearly was an uneven performance for Virginia, especially by the program’s lofty standards.
In the first half, the offense was inefficient and gave up 5 turnovers. Many possessions featured players trying to break down the defense with the dribble early in the clock, something that was at least somewhat forced by San Fran’s choice to play heavily into the passing lanes, and the Hoos struggled to finish near the rim. They did make 8 of 10 free throws in that first half to help give the offense some production, but 28% shooting overall and 25% shooting on 3’s didn’t create many points. Oddly enough, UVA made 3 of its first 4 shots to lead 9-2 in the first four minutes, but it hit just 4 of 21 (19%) to close the half.
The Cavaliers flipped the script in the second half as they committed just 3 turnovers and continued to get to the free throw line (7-8). They shot the ball much better overall with a 53.8% shooting half, though thanks to the Dons’ focus on taking away the 3-pointer that still featured just 1 3-pointer (1-4). Virginia led 54-53 with 3:42 remaining, but an 8-0 burst from San Francisco created a 61-54 hole entering the final seconds. After a missed 1-and-1 free throw, the Hoos had a chance to win at the buzzer but Sam Hauser’s 3-point attempt missed.
The stat sheet ended up as a balanced attack. Justin McKoy and Reece Beekman led the way with 11 points each. McKoy made 4 of 8 shots and he added 6 rebounds with 1 assist. Beekman hit 5 of 6 and finished with 4 rebounds. Hauser rounded out the double-digit with scoring 10 points, much of which came late in the second half. He added 6 rebounds and 1 blocked shot, but also had 3 turnovers.
Kihei Clark chipped in 9 points mostly on the strength of 7-10 shooting at the free throw line. He went 1-5 from the floor and 0-2 from 3-point range and finished with 2 assists against 3 turnovers. Two standouts from the Towson game, Jay Huff and Trey Murphy III, struggled with 4 points each. Huff took just 2 shots, but did put up 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, and 1 assist. Murphy’s only points came from the free throw line as he went 0-6 (0-1 from 3) and he had 1 rebound and 1 steal for the rest of his stat line.
The Wahoos collectively made just 8 of 22 shots at the rim. With the inability to create 3-point shots either, there just wasn’t enough firepower to get the job done overall.
“I would say the first game we were we started out very hot,” McKoy said. “We seemed like we almost couldn’t miss, and this game became a little more difficult. We didn’t shoot it as well and that definitely plays part of it, but I think also, our coaches prepare us, we just got to attack in different ways on the offensive end. But yeah, it was definitely a big difference between the two.”
The UVA defense did a part-time act too. In the first half, San Francisco managed 27.6% shooting overall and 30.8% shooting from 3-point range. The Dons committed 6 turnovers and attempted just 2 free throws. With the Hoos sputtering offensively too, they led just 24-21 at the half.
In the second half, the Virginia defense didn’t consistently get stops. San Fran shot 51.7% overall and 60% from 3-point range. They had just 2 turnovers and attempted just 2 free throws. The biggest difference came from the frontcourt where the Dons won the 3-point shooting contest. Whereas Hauser, Huff, and Murphy didn’t make a single triple after lighting up Towson, Dzmitry Ryuny, Taavi Jurkatamm, and Josh Kunen made 7 3-pointers on 60% shooting. In the second half, that trio exposed the UVA defense. After going 1-6 in the first half, Ryuny hit 2 of 4 in the second half while Jurkatamm matched that effort and Kunen made both of his attempts after intermission.
Those shots alone account for 21 points to match what San Francisco had in the entire first half. That shooting opened up space for drives and slashing cuts that further exposed the Cavalier defense. That essentially nullified Virginia’s strong second half offensively and San Fran won the final 4 minutes to get the win.
Senior Jamaree Bouyea lead his team with 19 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals. Fellow guard Khalil Shabazz added 14 points, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, to go with 5 rebounds and 1 assist. The shooting from Ryuny, Jurkatamm, and Kunen added up to 26 points in the end.
Bennett said the defense needs to eliminate some of the mistakes.
“Whenever we had a breakdown, they took advantage of it,” Bennett said. “If we didn’t help and recover. If we closed out, stayed too long, closed out with our hands low, left the ball screen defense to soon, boom they really made you pay. Then at times they certainly hit some tough shots. They hit a bank shot at the end of the shot clock, made plays that were there, and our defense wasn’t sound enough for long enough. There’s going to be runs. They’re going to make tough shots, but you got to start eliminating some of the breakdowns. That’s something that this team has to keep addressing. We lost two terrific, physical, active defenders and could play on the glass and that’s some that’s something that we got to keep fighting and trying to find our way in regards to that.”