The Virginia basketball team doesn’t have to think too hard to find something for the Thankfulness pillar in late November. The Cavaliers, after all, have captured seven November tournament championships in the last eight years. They added the Legends Classic title to the ledger Tuesday with a 58-40 win against Providence in Newark, New Jersey.
It’s the second time the Hoos have defeated the Friars in a championship game during those eight years. Virginia took down Providence 63-52 in the Emerald Coast Classic in 2016.
“We made them earn it, and I thought the guys did a really good job,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said per The Washington Post. “That just took its toll. Armaan [Franklin] got us off to a good start offensively, but that defense would not allow anything easy for most of the game, so I think we took a step in the right way for sure.”
While tournament success at this time of the year has become the norm for Virginia, it took some heavy lifting from a pair of newcomers to get it done this season. Transfers Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin combined for 35 points in the win en route to all-tournament honors. Both players scored in double digits in both tournament games.
Gardner, who was named the Legends Classic MVP, poured in 21 points and 13 rebounds against Providence. It marked the 21st time in college that he posted at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, but this is the first time for that split at UVA. He does have three double-doubles in the first six games. He made 8 of 9 shots in an efficent outing Tuesday night.
Franklin, meanwhile, added 14 points, 1 assist, and 1 steal despite losing some minutes to foul trouble. He too had an efficient game as he made 5 of 7 shots, including 4 of 6 3-pointers. That followed the 23-point performance against Georgia where he made just 1-7 triples.
Both players had it going early and it helped create scoreboard separation that the Friars never fully closed. Franklin scored all 14 of of his points in the first half, including a trio of 3’s during a 13-0 run that gave UVA control. Gardner, meanwhile, put up 10 points in the first half with a pair of back-to-back buckets contributing to the aforementioned spurt. The surge came in the early moments as Virginia flipped a 7-4 deficit into a 17-7 lead over six minutes of action.
“I’m always trying to be assertive on the offensive end because I know my team needs me to score,” Gardner said. “I just felt good with the looks they were giving me and my teammates always setting me up. I got great looks early and it got me going.”
The Cavaliers maintained that double-digit lead for most of the first half and the first 8 minutes of the second half. Providence chipped away at it with a 13-2 run and had the lead down to six points at 42-36 entering the final 10 minutes. The Friars couldn’t make a final push. A dunk by Kadin Shedrick and a traditional 3-point play from Gardner halted the momentum and UVA moved back to the double-digit lead that never dipped again.
Virginia’s defense had a lot to do with that.
The Friars managed just 23.5% shooting (12-51) that included 13.6% shooting from 3-point range (3-22). Noah Horchler was the only one to shoot at a decent clip as he made 4 of 8 shots en route to a team-high 14 points. Aljami Durham added 10, but he finished 3-10 shooting and Nate Watson had 8 on 4-11 shooting.
The rough offensive numbers came courtesy of a stingy effort from the Cavaliers, who found some defensive rhythm over the final three quarters in the Legends Classic. It started against Georgia when UVA allowed 21 points on 25.8% shooting in the second half of Monday’s game and continued through both halves Tuesday. Over those 60 minutes, Virginia allowed only 3 3-pointers on 26 attempts. The Wahoos bothered providence with some post traps, hard hedges, and good recovery work.
Plus, Shedrick turned away several shots in help defense. He recorded a career-high 5 blocked shots, the fourth straight multi-block game for the sophomore. He also added 4 points and 7 rebounds. A couple of other players joined Shedrick with career notes too. Francisco Caffaro matched his career high with 7 rebounds that went with 4 points and 1 blocked shot. Reece Beekman set a new career high with 7 assists that went with 5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, and 1 steal. Kihei Clark, meanwhile, finished with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. That moved him into 10th on the program’s career list with 406 assists.
The defense, though, is what was the difference maker. Virginia is 104-2 when limiting opponents to fewer then 50 during the Bennett era.
“That was one of the best defensive efforts I’ve seen in years,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.