With a new-look roster making its debut, the Virginia basketball team looked to start its season on a high note Tuesday night. Instead, an experienced Navy team torpedoed those hopes with a 66-58 win at the John Paul Jones Arena.
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak in opening games and a 24-game home opening winning streak. It marks just the second loss in a season opener under coach Tony Bennett. For the Midshipmen, the victory represented their first over a ranked team since 1986.
So, yeah, that’s not how the No. 25 Hoos hoped the night would go as fans returned to the JPJ.
“It’s hard to beat a solid team when you turn the ball over 14 times and you give up 10 offensive rebounds, seven fastbreak points – [those] are the important things when you’re in tight games, possession games,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to become a little tougher physically and a little more gritty, mentally to last longer in these games. That’s part of the growing process.”
Indeed, some of the usual bedrock reliable parts of the UVA winning formula sputtered at times Tuesday. Bennett ticked off the ones that jump out of the box score: 14 turnovers led to 22 points off turnovers, 10 offensive rebounds allowed led to 10 second chance points, and 7 fastbreak points contributed to the loss as well.
The Hoo also played poor defense at the start of the game and had breakdowns recovering to shooters. Navy started red hot from 3-point range as a result, which helped build a 42-35 halftime lead. The visitors made 8 of their first 10 triples and while they made just 3 of their last 11, two of those helped turn away early second half momentum for Virginia.
John Carter Jr. led the Midshipmen with 19 points on the strength of 5-8 shooting from downtown, while Sean Yoder added 15 points that included a 3-3 night from 3-point range. They also got 8 points and 5 rebounds from Greg Summers and 7 points and 7 rebounds from Daniel Deaver.
“We wanted to keep it moving, we were driving to pitch, driving to pitch, they’re such a tall team inside and we’re not, we’re not that tall,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said. “So we just didn’t know if we could get it to the basket on the drive. … We didn’t want to give them anything in easy transition off a blocked shot so we really tried to emphasize driving to pitch, driving to pitch. Get it into post and get it out of the post. I thought [Daniel] Deaver had a couple of nice skip passes out of the post. And we made the shots, I mean you got to make shots. We shot the ball really well tonight.”
With some of the details lacking, the Hoos could not afford a tough shooting night or a sustained drought offensively. They got both.
Kihei Clark, playing off the ball for extended stretches, finished with 12 points and 2 assists but he made just 2 of 7 3-pointers. Armaan Franklin, making his UVA debut after transferring from Indiana, had 7 points and 3 steals but he too couldn’t get the ball to go down. He hit 1 of 7 3-pointers with the sole make coming in the final 15 seconds with Navy up by 9.
Kody Stattmann made his only long-range attempt, while Reece Beekman missed his only 3-point try. Beekman ended up with a stat-stuffer line of 8 points, 5 rebounds, 6 steals, and 6 assists. Altogether, it added up to 4-16 shooting from 3-point range and the 21-point difference from that category alone was too much to overcome even with a 12-17 night at the free throw line.
That left a lot of production pressure on the frontcourt. Jayden Gardner, making his Virginia debut after transferring from East Carolina, delivered on expectations with a physical and aggressive showing on offense. He recorded an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double but did commit 5 turnovers that contributed to the low offensive output. UVA also got 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals from Kadin Shedrick as a starter plus 3 points and 4 rebounds from Francisco Caffaro off the bench.
Navy made a strategic switch down the stretch to help slow down the interior scoring and driving offense, though. The Midshipmen shifted to a zone near the midway point of the second half and after a Shedrick offensive rebound bucket with 8:45 to go, the Hoos didn’t score again for 8:30 seconds. That was the aforementioned 3-pointer from Franklin with 15 seconds remaining.
“I think around the 10-minute mark they went zone,” Clark said. “I thought it was a good switch-up for them. I thought we got our open looks and it didn’t fall. I think we had back-to-back turnovers two times down the floor so I think that’s where it hurt.”
With Navy splashing cold water on the excitement at the start of the season, the Wahoos have little time to dwell on the loss. They host Radford on Friday at 7 p.m. That will be the first game to test what was learned from the opening loss delivered by an experienced Navy team that posted a 15-3 record last season.
With a long season ahead, the Hoos hope that the second home game produces a better outcome.
“They scheduled this team because they knew they were mature,” Clark said. “They were tough, they were disciplined so obviously it showed. I thought they were a lot tougher than us but I think it was a good test for the team. Obviously, it’s not the way we wanted to start but it’s a long season so just tell our guys to try to be confident and just try to keep working.”