In the home opener earlier this week, the Virginia basketball team threw the winning knockout punch against St. Francis early in the first half. With Kent State in the John Paul Jones Arena on Friday night, it took a little longer – 40 minutes and overtime, to be exact. The Cavaliers controlled the extra session and pulled out the 71-64 victory to reach 3-1 on the season.
UVA owns a 81-7 non-conference record in the Tony Bennett era at the JPJ. Michigan State will be the next test to that record when the Spartans visit on Wednesday night.
“We got a long way to go. I know it’s a long season. It’s early. We just have to learn how to grind it out,” Cavalier guard Kihei Clark said. “Coach Bennett said after the game: ‘We think we’re playing at our max effort, but there’s a whole another level that we have to get to in order to reach the next level of play.’ So – especially during Michigan State, we’re definitely going to have to up our effort a lot more.”
Trailing 56-52 exiting the final second half media timeout with 3:50 to go in regulation, the Cavaliers needed to buckle down defensively to avoid their second upset loss of the season. At that point in the second half, the Golden Flashes had made 13 of 20 shot attempts, a scorching 65% clip, to erase a 29-22 halftime deficit and lead late on the road. Down the stretch, however, the hosts finally began to get stops.
KSU finished 2-7 shooting (28.6%) in the final 3:50 with one turnover, a steal by Tomas Woldetensae following a post trap. A blocked shot by Jay Huff stopped another scoring chance as well. If not for an offensive rebound that kicked out to the perimeter in the final few seconds, UVA would have allowed just one bucket in those closing minutes but Danny Pippen sent the game to overtime with a pure 3-pointer at the buzzer that left the score tied at 62-62. Pippen finished with 13 points on 3-10 shooting from 3-point range, while Michael Nuga led all scorers with 20 points. Reece Beekman helped cool Nuga off late defensively, though.
The Cavaliers kept their focus entering the extra session despite Pippen’s big shot.
“When a guy hits a shot like that, it can be deflating but that’s an area of improvement for us. That’s an area where we need to finish the game right there and seal the win,” Virginia senior Sam Hauser said. “Sometimes stuff like that happens and we just had to refocus in the huddle and I think we did that well and came out with five good minutes in overtime and obviously came out on top. So, I was happy with our fight in overtime, but overall we got to get a lot tougher and a lot stronger on the boards.”
The defensive success that closed regulation continued into the next five minutes. The Flashes hit just 1 of 11 shots in overtime (9.1%), though some defensive rebounding issues popped up on the first possession of overtime too when the visitors had 3 offensive rebounds but failed to put points on the board. That was a fortunate break as the visitors had 9 second chance points on 10 offensive boards overall. The Hoos pulled away once it turned off the floodgates that had allowed Kent State to rally into the lead in the second half. KSU finished 3-18 shooting (16.7%) over the final 8:50.
Virginia kept the same five players on the court for that entire stretch – Beekman, Clark, Hauser, Huff, and Woldetensae. Each of those players ended up with 31+ minutes played with Hauser leading the way with 41.
“I just thought, it was the right group,” Bennett said. “We could have made some subs. I don’t know, but I thought it was the right group. They started touching on the stops, the efforts, the things that were required and they were spreading them out and attacking on offense. … You know, I think both teams looked gassed at the end. You could see it. They missed some shots. We missed some shots. But I just thought it was the right way to go. I don’t always get that right, but we were fortunate. We also had to play and make plays and get some stops. So again, you always say, ‘Where can we grow and what can we take and say, ‘That’s some good stuff.’”
Once the team started to string together stops, it found enough offense to overcome the late four-point hole and eventually pull away in overtime. Clark and Huff provided the points late in regulation, while Hauser came up with two key shots in overtime.
Clark found a crease and scored a layup to make it 56-54 just after the timeout at the 3:50 mark in regulation. He followed that up by earning multiple trips to the free throw line down the stretch. He made 4 of 6 free throws in the final 3:19 and fouled Kent State guard Giovanni Santiago in the process, which played a role in UVA’s late rally. Santiago had played 38 minutes and had 8 points with 5 rebounds when he fouled out with 1:20 to go.
Huff added points from the stripe late too. He went 4-4 in the final two minutes after getting touches near the rim. He closed out the scoring with 2 free throws at the end of overtime too. Before those final points, Hauser had come through with two key plays earlier in the extra session. He opened the scoring with a tough driving layup on the left side that gave UVA the lead for good at 64-62, but a 3-pointer in the final minute was the final dagger that was needed. Still clinging to the 2-point lead, Hauser caught the ball on the wing, made a pass fake, and squared up for a net-swishing triple that made it 67-62 with 42 seconds to play.
The trio all landed in double figures in the scoring column. Clark had 14 points and 3 assists as he came off the bench for the second straight game, though he played 38 minutes. He also had just 1 turnover. Huff and Hauser led the team with 18 points each. Woldetensae added 5 points, while Beekman and Casey Morsell had 4 each. Trey Murphy III chipped in 8 points.
Those are new career-highs for Huff, who posted his fifth career double-double. He also added 2 blocked shots, his fourth multi-block game in four starts this year. He’s now in sole possession of eighth place on the program’s all-time blocks list with 110. He’s now 8 blocks away from Mamadi Diakite in sixth place and 16 blocks behind Kris Hunter in fifth. Hauser, meanwhile, has scored in double figures in all four games. He had 18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and a blocked shot in this win.
“[Kihei] brought what he needed to bring and he’s got to bring it non stop. That was important,” Bennett said. “He’s quick and again he’s got to make the good decisions and I thought he had a nice stretch for us for sure. … You know, the experience is there, and he’s got to get it and hopefully Sam will keep coming. You know I say this about Sam, he made a huge shot, he did some good things. I remember it with Anthony Gill and other good players I had too. There was a year that was missed of competition. and there’s a little bit of timing and just feel like, ‘oh yeah.’ Because you forget, oh yeah, this is how intense this is. It is almost a little bit of a water in the face, even for me. And I think we’re experiencing that and we’ll continue to because from here on out it’s just high level competition.”