The Virginia men’s basketball team has regularly played well on the road in the Tony Bennett era, but the Cavaliers knew they’d face a difficult test at Wake Forest on Saturday. The Demon Deacons, after all, entered the game with an ACC best 28-2 record at home the last two seasons and a 10-0 record so far this year at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. That included a win earlier this week in the building against No. 19 Clemson.
The Hoos surged ahead by double digits in the first half with some sizzling shooting from 3-point land and then held off a furious Wake rally in the second half to claim a 76-67 road victory. Virginia has won five straight games in Winston-Salem and 11 of the last 12 in the series.
“It was a tough environment,” UVA guard Armaan Franklin said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “They got really loud once they got going in the second half. … Just trying to rally together, stay poised, try to string as many stops together as we could. They were going to hit shots and things like that, but just trying to stay poised throughout the whole thing.”
The Cavaliers needed that poise because the Demon Deacons did not go down without a fight.
After Virginia built a 19-point advantage 14:18 into the first half and carried a 10-point halftime lead at 42-32, Wake worked its way back into the game over the first 12 minutes of the second half. The hosts whittled the lead all the way down to one at 57-56 with 8:33 to go on two Tyree Appleby free throws and UVA’s lead guards Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman sat side by side at that moment on the bench with four fouls apiece.
Over the next two minutes, even as the Wahoo duo eventually returned, the Deacs had three chances to take the lead. Appleby missed a transition 3 and Virginia’s Ryan Dunn blocked his driving layup attempt on the next trip. Andrew Carr also got a clean look at a corner 3-pointer that he missed.
Despite the foul trouble, UVA held Appleby, the ACC’s second-leading scorer, to 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Carr had 7 points, while Damari Monsanto really kept his team in the battle with 25 points thanks to 7 treys. Cameron Hildreth chipped in 16 points too. The Demon Deacons made 18 of 22 free throws to generate a lot of their offense, but they entered the game at No. 1 in the ACC in scoring offense (79.5 points per game) and No. 2 in field goal percentage (46.7%) and fell short of both of those marks with 67 points on 39.2% shooting.
“You knew they were going to make a run and come out in the second half,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “I think one of our coaches said they’re going to throw some haymakers. They’re capable with their shooting. They’ve got some guys. They kind of spread us out and really attacked and they had us wondering is the screen behind [us] and got our guards in foul trouble, which was a challenge.”
Once the potential lead-taking haymakers missed, UVA put together a short 6-0 run that left Wake in chase mode again for the rest of the afternoon. Beekman made two free throws, Franklin slipped free unguarded for a dunk, and Dunn flew in for an offensive putback jam as that trio found some easy points to finally turn the tide. Wake Forest got within 5 points and 4 points down the stretch but Beekman stepped into a pull-up 3-pointer with 2:40 to go and Clark made two free throws when the Deacs opted for a fouling strategy with 48 seconds remaining to erase those threats.
With the noted key baskets in the mix, the Hoos’ decision to send both Beekman and Clark back into the game after the under 8 media timeout obviously paid dividends.
“The decision was is it going to be one or both,” Bennett said. “I kind of was thinking one and then one of [the assistants] … said let’s go with both. And I’m like, kind of ride or die. Let’s go. It’s time.”
Late in the first half, it didn’t look like such a big decision was on the horizon. The Cavaliers uncorked a 22-1 run that suddenly ripped open what had been a back-and-forth contest for opening 9 minutes. Virginia trailed 14-12 with 11:21 to go, but then led by 19 points at 34-15 less than six minutes later.
The outburst started and finished with Franklin. He knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers at 11:02 and 10:14, which Isaac McKneely followed with a triple of his own. Franklin then added a dunk and another 3 that made it 26-14 before Beekman joined the long-range shooting fun with a trey too. After a Wake free throw from Carr, Franklin put in two more buckets with a layup and another 3-pointer for the aforementioned 34-15 advantage at the 5:42 mark before halftime.
Franklin finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. Clark tallied 12 points and 4 assists, while McKneely had 11 points and 3 assists. Beekman recorded 8 points and 6 assists, while Ben Vander Plas added 8 points and 7 rebounds. Dunn and Jayden Gardner each chipped in 5 points, while Dunn also added 8 rebounds.
The Hoos shot 16 of 34 overall (47.1%) in the first half and made 9 of 20 3-pointers (45.0%). They cooled off with 8-26 shooting overall (30.8%) in the second half, but still made 6 of 14 3-pointers (42.9%) to hold off the Deacs. Virginia made 13 of 17 free throws (76.5%) as well.
“As well as we shot it in the first half, it’s hard to sustain that and bang those 3’s and maybe we got a little 3 happy at times,” Bennett said. “But we managed. Ryan gave us a great lift again. Some key plays were made. Armaan, obviously you look at his double-double, first one in his career. Kind of having to outlast. Yep, they missed a couple of bunnies. We missed a couple of bunnies. Couple of calls both ways. We were faithful to what we needed to do. The guys held their own. … I was excited for that victory because I think Wake Forest is a very talented team offensively and they’re doing some things defensively to make us think.”