For much of Monday night’s matchup in the Legends Classic men’s basketball tournament, neither Virginia nor Georgia could seize control of the game. The Cavaliers finally put together a late surge, however, to grab a 65-55 win that pushed them into the title game of the event.
The Hoos get a shot at their seventh November tournament championship in the last eight years Tuesday night against Providence at 7:30 p.m.
“The second half holding them to 21 points and then making a lot of the shots contested, Kadin [Shedrick] rim protecting, and just scrapping was important,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “We missed some 3’s and layups, had some untimely turnovers, not as many as we’ve had in some of the other games, but defense, I think they got a good example of if you lock down, it can help you withstand either a drought or hot-cold offense or cold offense I should say. … Still some errors, but closer to what it’s gonna take to be in games and hold in there.”
Virginia’s final push did pick up defensively and some points followed. After falling behind 48-47 on a Georgia Dunk with 7:18 to play, the Hoos allowed just three more buckets for 7 points the rest of the way and one of those came in the final 33 seconds after building a 9-point lead. During that stretch, the Bulldogs made just 3 of 12 shots and committed 4 turnovers.
That left Georgia at 37.0% shooting for the night (20-54), which included a rough 14.3% shooting from 3-point range (3-21). The Bulldogs managed 13 offensive rebounds that they turned into 12 second chance points in what’s been an early season theme for UVA’s defense, but the Cavaliers forced enough tough shots and enough contested 3-point shots to get a better result this time around.
Braelen Bridges led Georgia with 14 points and 5 rebounds, while Jailyn Ingram added 10 points and 12 rebounds. Kario Oquendo chipped in 9 points, while Tyron McMillan had 8. UVA transfer Jabri Abdur-Rahim had 4 points on 1-6 shooting.
“We pride ourselves on the defensive end and in those key moments, even if your offense is not making shots, you’ve got to rely on your defense,” Virginia guard Armaan Franklin said. “I think some plays, we made big plays on the defensive end. Kadin came up with some big rebounds and big blocks and we just got stops.”
With the defense buckling down late, what had been a see-saw battle tilted in the Hoos’ favor after an 11th and final lead change thanks to some timely baskets. Franklin played a big role in the surge. He got a defensive rebound that set up the go-ahead possession when Jayden Gardner took a post entry pass quickly to the baseline and scored. Franklin add 2 free throws on the next possession, an up-and-under layup a few moments later, and a pullup jumper on the ensuing possession. That last shot with 2:34 to go gave the Hoos a 57-51 lead and they put the game away at the free throw line after that.
The late flurry from Franklin was just part of a big night. He scored his team’s first 9 points in the early going and eventually matched his career high with 23 points. Despite going 1-7 from 3-point range, he made 8 of 16 shots overall and 6 free throws to get to that total. Franklin added 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and a blocked shot to a stat-stuffer line in the win.
“Just not worrying about the 3, shots are going to fall, shots are not going to fall but at the end of the day you can’t just rely on that one thing,” Franklin said. “I think I’m able to get to the basket sometimes and also use the mid-range as a weapon as well so just not always relying on my 3-point shot if it’s not falling.”
Georgia coach Tom Crean knew that Franklin was capable of those things.
“I mean I love Armaan Franklin” Crean said. “I was at Indiana coaching when he was growing up there. We tried like crazy to recruit him when he left Indiana and he’s a fantastic player. I always felt he was going to be an NBA guard at some point. He did a lot of really good things. He utilizes screens extremely well. He’s an outstanding shooter. We knew he would be a hard matchup because of how aggressive he is and how well he attacks the rim not only shooting the 3.”
UVA picked up some contributions from other experienced sources too. Kihei Clark posted 12 points and 3 assists as he took on more playmaking duties, while Gardner tallied 11 points and 6 rebounds despite facing a little bit of foul trouble. Reece Beekman added 7 points and 3 assists despite a tough 2-10 shooting night. The Hoos also got some timely points from Francisco Caffaro, Kadin Shedrick, Carson McCorkle, and Igor Milicic Jr. as that quartet all had 3 points each.
The offense still struggled shooting as the Cavaliers ended up at 39.6% shooting (21-53) that included 25% from 3-point range (5-20), but they cleaned up the turnover category to provide more opportunities. They had double-digit turnovers in each of the first four games for a total of 52 turnovers (13 per game), but reduced it all the way down to 4 turnovers in this win. After committing 19 combined turnovers in the first 4 games, Clark and Beekman recorded only 3 against Georgia. Gardner had 9 turnovers in the first 4 games, but none on Monday.
For a team still finding its way in November, that’s an important step forward for an offense that could be challenged with scoring at times.
“We were surer with the ball. We still had some untimely ones, a couple here and there, but that’s huge for us,” Bennett said. “Those areas. I keep saying them. Take care of the ball, don’t give up as many offensive rebounds, and then not give up any of the transition baskets. You’ve got to be as solid as you can in those areas. … You just see a little bit, just there’s not a comfort level yet and hopefully we’ll keep finding ourselves.”