For the third straight Friday night, the Virginia basketball team grabbed a win at the John Paul Jones Arena. This one was a little extra special, though. The Hoos took down Lehigh, 61-43, and delivered win No. 300 at UVA to Tony Bennett in the process.
Bennett appreciated the accomplishment, but downplayed any fanfare around it. He now owns a 300-105 record with the Hoos and a 369-138 record overall. Bennett is No. 2 on the school all-time coaching wins list behind Terry Holland, who posted a 326-173 record with UVA. Holland finished with a career record of 418-216 combined at Davidson and Virginia.
“Man, I’ve been here a long time. It always goes to the players you had, and the staff that you had,” Bennett said. “I read this book and this guy’s answer when everyone said, ‘How you are doing?’ the guy’s response was always ‘better than I deserve.’ The chance to have been here as long as I have, and the things that have happened and transpired here are better than I deserve. I know that, and I’m grateful for just being here and getting to coach. I guess, well, it’s my 13th year and I didn’t even know that I joined Coach Holland. Coach Holland is a legend and I love that man and what he’s done for this institution. I don’t even know how many he’s won, I’m sure it’s a ton, but again, it means that it’s on the shoulders of others.”
It’s hard to picture a more fitting score for the occasion. It marked the 105th victory of the Bennett era when holding an opponent to fewer than 50 points. Yes, you got the math right – that means a little more than a third of Bennett’s victories at Virginia have ended with an opponent staring up at a low total on the scoreboard.
The Mountain Hawks made just 35.3% of their shots on the night (18-51), which included a struggled behind the 3-point line. They connected on just 18.8% of their 3’s (3-16). No one reached double figures with Jeameril Wilson and Evan Taylor each recording 8 points to lead the team.
Lehigh also committed 15 turnovers and had just 7 offensive rebounds. UVA disrupted things with 9 steals and 6 blocked shots as part of the defensive effort. The usual suspects led those two categories. Kadin Shedrick had 3 blocks, the sixth straight game with 3 blocks or more, and Reece Beekman notched 4 steals, his third game this season with 4 steals or more.
The Cavaliers have held four straight opponents to 55 points or fewer and to 37.0% shooting or below. That includes holding back-to-back opponents this week to a final score in the 40’s.
“Pack-Line. That’s what Tony [Bennett] does, that’s what we do,” UVA center Francisco Caffaro said. “Kadin blocking shots when he has a chance. In our last game I feel like I did a good job defending their best guy and not letting them get the ball. I mean, everybody, Reece gets a lot of steals every game and so does Kihei [Clark]. I also feel that our energy has just been really high recently too.”
While the defense bottled up the visitors, it took a little time for the Wahoos to find a groove offensively. They led just 25-21 at halftime after shooting 33.3% in the first half. That included numerous attempts near the rim that didn’t go down.
In the end, however, Virginia got on track. The hosts shot a blistering 59.3% in the second half – a season high for any half – as they tallied 16 buckets in 27 attempts. They made 66.7% of their shots inside the arc in the second half (14-21). This wasn’t a bad shooting night from downtown like some previous games this season, though. UVA connected on 4 of 10 long-range attempts. With 16 assists and 9 turnovers, that was enough to pull away.
The Cavaliers shared the load offensively as six players had at least 8 points. Clark led all scorers with 11 points and he added a season-high 7 assists as well. Beekman chipped in a season-high 10 points plus 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 1 blocked shot as the only other player in double figures. Armaan Franklin, the third starter in the backcourt, added 8 points and 2 assists too.
The inside trio of Jayden Gardner, Shedrick, and Caffaro provided a chunk of the scoring total as each had 8 points. Gardner finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds, while Shedrick and Caffaro had matching 8-point, 5-rebound stat lines. Shedrick made all of his shots at 4-4, while Caffaro made 4-6. The Hoos scored 38 points in the paint with those three doing a lot of the damage.
Virginia outscored Lehigh 28-10 in the first 12:20 of the second half and the Mountain Hawks never recovered.
“We expanded the lead, made a couple shots, and had some finishes,” Bennett said. “It was so good to see [Caffaro] and Kadin throw it inside. We had a size advantage and made some plays over the top. Reece got going in the second half and I was so happy to get Chris in there at the end. Chris McGahren has been a manager for us and he’s been unbelievable. And then of course, you know Jayden Nixon and Chase Coleman and what they’ve meant to our team. So, when you can get them a minute or two it’s great. I’d love to get them more but that was great.”