During the first half of Wednesday night’s basketball game, Voice of the Cavaliers John Freeman mused whether an Argentinian would be the key in the Commonwealth Clash showdown with Virginia Tech. Francisco Caffaro, already off to a good start at that point, turned out to be exactly that as a career night helped UVA claim the rivalry win, 54-52, at the John Paul Jones Arena.
The Hoos have won three straight home games in the series. They’re 10-6 overall this season and 4-2 in the ACC with Wake Forest up next.
“I thought our guys though not maybe perfect or pretty, that’s who we are and they took a step in the right direction to be as rugged as they could be on both ends of the floor,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Both teams played their hearts out. I told Coach Young I think he’s a terrific coach, his teams are hard to guard. … I think we were again not perfect, but as ready as we could be to guard their stuff because it is difficult and they played good hard defense. It kind of mirrored each other. It was just one of those games for sure.”
“Two good teams going nose to nose,” Tech coach Mike Young said. “Both teams really fought on both ends of the floor. [Francisco] Caffaro is a good player, he’s a big physical young man and he played a really good ball game. [We] missed some opportunities up three with the ball. I look forward to going back and looking at it but you know tip of the cap to Coach Bennett and the Cavaliers they were a little bit better than we were but that was a heck of a college basketball game.”
Caffaro poured in career highs of 16 points and 9 rebounds to help the Hoos pull out the win. That came in a career-high 31 minutes. He made 5 of 7 shots and 6 of 10 free throws with all of those numbers being career highs as well. Caffaro previously had scored in double figures just once in a UVA uniform when he had 10 points on 4-5 shooting against North Carolina in December 2019. His previous high for shot attempts was 6 against Lehigh and his previous high for free throw attempts was also 6 against Houston with both of those games coming earlier this season.
Some of those points came during the stretch run and proved critical to the outcome. He made a free throw with 3:01 remaining to make it a one possession game with Virginia trailing 52-49. On the team’s next possession, he caught a pass from Jayden Gardner in a crowded paint and got the layup to go left-handed to pull the Hoos within one point.
“I didn’t really see it coming, especially from JG – I thought he was just going to go up with it,” Caffaro told the Virginia Sports Radio Network crew. “I feel like I’ve been kind of bad with my hands lately, especially at the beginning of the season so I’ve just been working on it. You’ve always got to be ready for the ball so I was kind of ready. The most impressive thing for me was that I shot it with my left and it went in. You’ve got to be ready for those and just put it up there. I thought it was going to be blocked as well, but I didn’t so it was good.”
Caffaro got the opportunity for such a big night after early foul trouble sent Kadin Shedrick to the bench. That put the defensive task of dealing with Tech’s Keve Aluma on his shoulders. Aluma managed to post 22 points, but he needed 20 shots to do it as he shot 9-20 from the floor and 3-3 from the free throw line. Making him earn his points was a key focus and the Cavaliers came through with a couple of big possessions against him late in the game as well. The Hokies did not score in the final 3:13 as UVA rallied to win. Aluma had 2 turnovers and missed a shot in that span – a well-timed double team forced one turnover, Aluma slipped trying to drive against Caffaro for a travelling turnover, and he missed a hook over the taller defense too.
“He’s a crafty player,” Caffaro said. “He’s talented, uses his footwork pretty well and his fakes so just stay down, try to slide with him every time I could, and just don’t get lifted. He’s a little shorter so I knew I could bother him just staying down and putting my hands up. That was it.”
The big game for Caffaro on both ends of the floor helped cover for a tough night offensively for Gardner and foul trouble for Shedrick. Gardner made just 2 of 10 shots to finish with 4 points, but put up 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists, which included the key dish to Caffaro late.
The Cavaliers picked up strong performances from Armaan Franklin and Reece Beekman as well. Franklin dropped 15 points to with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. That included a pair of free throws with 1:33 remaining to give the Hoos the lead for good. Beekman added 11 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 1 blocked shot in a stat-stuffer effort. His scoring included a baseline drive and dunk that ignited the crowd in the second half. That one-two scoring punch helped offset a slower night for Kihei Clark, who had 6 points on 1-6 3-point shooting to go with 1 assist.
Virginia shot 40% overall (20-50), 23.1% from 3-point range (3-13), and 68.8% from the free throw line (11-16) in the win. The hosts had 12 assists with only 8 turnovers. Beekman and Franklin contributed 8 of those helpers and both shot well inside the arc where Beekman made 4 of 9 attempts and Franklin 4 of 7. The two go-ahead free throws came when Franklin attacked inside the paint.
“I think that’s a part of my game that I really enjoy, just not always relying on the 3-point shot like I did earlier in the season and finding different ways to score,” Franklin said. “That’s either getting to the mid-range or getting to the basket, but I think my mid-range shot is pretty solid. Being able to get to that can get my confidence going for some 3’s behind the line.”
Collectively that was enough offense to win thanks to a good defensive outing. The Cavaliers allowed 42.0% shooting (21-50) and 36.8% from 3-point range (7-19), while giving up just 3 free throw attempts. They also kept Tech off the glass by allowing only 6 offensive rebounds. The Hokies had 13 assists, but also 12 turnovers.
The Wahoos made the players around Aluma work hard for their points too. Hunter Cattoor and Storm Murphy posted 10 points each on identical 4-10 shooting lines. They made a pair of 3-pointers each, but both missed looks at the basket on the final possession that could have given Virginia Tech the win. Cattoor’s shot came off a hand-off along the perimeter and then an offensive rebound kickout gave Murphy a chance at some rivalry glory, but his shot clanked off the front of the rim.
“They got two good looks at the end and that obviously could have gone either way, they really did and they missed them,” Bennett said.