Back at home for a one-game stop, the Virginia men’s basketball team picked up its second straight Friday night win against an overmatched opponent. The Hoos jumped out to a 16-2 lead and stayed ahead by double digits for the final 31 minutes en route to a 68-52 victory against Coppin State.
While the outcome was a comfortable win, it was far from a pristine performance. The Cavaliers had double-digit turnovers again, struggled to defend without fouling in the second half, and misfired from 3-point range as well. Still, on the heels of a 67-47 loss at Houston, UVA will take the victory and get ready for the Legends Classic next week.
“I think it was better for sure,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Again, you just, you come ready. I challenged them after the game to you know, I’ve got the it’s the Prefontaine poster in my office. It says ‘to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift’ and it’s him straining across the finish line. I may have referenced it before. … That’s what I want. As far as bouncing back and not sacrificing the opportunity that’s given to these young men, to me as a coach, to our staff, to just give your best attitude wise, effort wise. I cited again, look at these guys, we call them the green group. They just serve and they serve and they maximize that. That’s the challenge, and that’s the word that was given to them and I thought there were some good things and we just we’re still trying to keep improving.”
The Cavaliers did take some small steps forward. They held Coppin State to just 20 points in the first half on 25.9% shooting. They committed just 3 turnovers in the second half. They committed just 4 fouls in the first half. They cleaned up some defensive rebounding issues until the final six minutes when the Eagles grabbed 4 offensive rebounds.
The key is to pull those flashes together more consistently in order to create a more complete product. That part remains a work in progress. That’s something evident in the rotation during these early season games. With a lot of new faces competing for playing time, the coaching staff is working toward the right mix. That has led to some fluctuation in minutes from game to game and likely has contributed to some of the inconsistency.
On Friday against Coppin State, Kody Stattmann, Igor Milicic Jr., and Malachi Poindexter picked up the most bench minutes. Stattmann played 15 minutes and posted 8 points with 1 assist. That included a 2-4 shooting night from 3-point range. Poindexter played 14 minutes and had 2 points with 1 rebound, but contained things defensively. Milicic played early in the game for the first time in his career and ended up with 11 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 blocked shot in 13 minutes. Francisco Caffaro (9 minutes, 2 rebounds), Carson McCorkle (3 minutes, 2 rebounds), and Taine Murray (2 minutes) played fewer bench minutes after getting some extended run against Radford.
Bennett said Poindexter, a walk-on, earned the minutes through practice and that in the early stages of the season and in players’ development, everyone needs to just keep working.
“He’s been practicing well, and he can guard the ball. He’s strong and he spreads out and he shoots the ball well,” Bennett said of Poindexter’s larger role in this game. “At the beginning of the year I sat down with Malachi and Taine, Carson, and Igor and I said, look, you know, you four, we’re not really set on who are sometimes our 7,8,9 [players]. I may play eight, I may play nine, I may play 10 and said, You guys just stay encouraged and keep working. It might be one guy’s turn one week and he had some real good stretches. I just felt like it was his turn and I felt like it was Igor’s turn. That’s nothing against Carson because Carson did a good job the game before against Radford and Taine’s given us some stuff. Just looking at practices and that’s why the competition in practice and evaluating is important. His ability, again, to be poised, handle the ball, and shoot it well and can guard a little bit, those things stood out.”
Milicic also stood out. At 6’10” and 224 pounds, but playing as a perimeter player, he quickly got the attention of the fans and the Eagles. Within moments of checking in, Milicic ran off a screen on an inbounds play to make a corner 3-pointer and then knocked down a shorter jumper on the next trip down the floor. Later in the half, he blocked a shot with less than 10 seconds on the clock and it led to a run-out opportunity for Armaan Franklin that turned into a 3-point play.
Milicic arrived at the end of the summer from Europe so the Croatian is still adjusting to pretty much everything in America. That includes a time difference that limits the opportunities to talk to his father, a coach overseas himself, the style of basketball, and more.
Friday’s glimpse at his potential, however, provided some enticing evidence of his potential not only for the long term, but in the short term as well for a team that appears to need some outside shooting and spacing to go along with some length defending in some cases. Milicic made 2 of 4 3-point attempts.
“I was a little nervous when Coach Tony [Bennett] called my name for me to come in, but when I stepped on the floor I knew exactly what I had to do,” Milicic said. :I just played my game: came off of two screens and hit a jumper then another, I was just playing my game. Confidence has nothing to do with it. I just played how I know how to play.”
Coppin State had trouble with Virginia’s size in the frontcourt in general. In addition to Milicic’s 11 points, Jayden Gardner and Kadin Shedrick both posted double-doubles as well. Gardner put up 14 points with 12 rebounds, while committing just a single turnover. While his night got off to a rough start with some early turnovers (he finished with 3), Shedrick chipped in 10 points and 10 rebounds along with 3 blocked shots.
The Cavaliers balanced it out elsewhere on the roster. Kihei Clark added 12 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds. Reece Beekman had 4 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 1 blocked shot. The aforementioned Franklin finished with 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals. Clark made 1 of 2 triples, while Franklin and Beekman went 0-4 and 0-1 from behind the arc respectively.
It all added up to the second win of the season as the Hoos improved to 2-2 ahead of a three-game week next week. They face Georgia on Monday night at 7 p.m. as part of the Legends Classic in New Jersey and will get either Northwestern or Providence in the second game of that event. A third straight Friday night game follows with Lehigh coming to Charlottesville.
The following week features a game against Iowa and the ACC opener against Pitt. In other words, while the Wahoos continue to work on the look and consistency of this team, the schedule picks up steam in the coming days.
“It’s so hard to know [where we stand yet],” Bennett said. “Houston obviously was very challenging, and it was, in a lot of ways, what we needed to be exposed to and now we go to work. I think in college basketball, with the transfers and their maturity, there’s so many good players and you just have to be ready every night. This will be another chance. It’s quite a gauntlet of games we’ve got coming up and going non-stop. We get a chance on Monday, so a couple good prep days and then we go and play in Newark.”