For the second time this season, a visiting team from Texas left the John Paul Jones Arena impressed by the Virginia men’s basketball team. Tarleton State experienced it first with a 30-point loss in the season opener. On Thursday, Texas Southern found out firsthand how tough UVA can be in a 62-33 drubbing that delivered the second 29-point win of the week to the Hoos.
That’s the lowest point total allowed by Virginia since 2016 when St. Francis Brooklyn finished with 32 in mid-November game. Texas Southern had just 14 points in the first half, the second straight opponent to land under 20 in the first 20 minutes after North Carolina A&T had 19 on Tuesday. UVA improved to 28-0 when allowing fewer than 40 points under Tony Bennett.
The Hoos are 4-0 on the young season with the Fort Myers Tip-Off Tournament on deck next week.
“We knew coming in that this would be a very difficult task for us,” TSU Johnny Jones said. “I’m very familiar with the program and what they’ve been able to do over the years and tonight we had an opportunity to see it up close and personal. But outstanding job and obviously with a lot of new guys that they have, being able to put things together. … I thought our guys fought hard, I thought they fought really early in the first half. … I thought their defense really showed up like they’re capable of playing.”
Statistically, the numbers back up Jones’ observations. The Tigers managed less than 20 points in each half and they logged more turnovers with 20 than made baskets 12) and free throws (6) combined. They finished at 26.1% shooting overall (12-46), 18.8% from 3-point range (3-16), and 54.5% from the line (6-11). That included just 20.8% shooting overall (5-24) in the first half. Those turnovers are a season high forced by the Hoos, who swiped 13 steals to account for a large part of the total.
Even when slivers of daylight emerged, Texas Southern met resistance from the helping parts of the Pack-Line Defense. Virginia had 10 blocked shots as a team, a block percentage of 21.7% on the 46 field goal attempts. Ryan Dunn posted 4 blocks, including one that slammed straight down toward the floor in the second half. Blake Buchanan and Reece Beekman added 3 each. Dunn and Beekman also notched 3 steals each, a number matched by Leon Bond III.
The combination of the two categories proved historic. It marked the first time in program history that Virginia had 10 or more steals (13) and blocks (10) in the same game.
Still, in an indication both of the standard at UVA and the potential the coaches must see for this unit, Bennett did not like the quality of his team’s defensive execution. He praised the overall effort and the individual plays to erase some opportunities for TSU, but did not like the number of breakdowns that occurred when observing it live. That included 13 offensive rebounds secured by the Tigers.
“The energy and the flying around was good. … And I said that to the guys after, I said ‘Hey, great energy, but turning the ball over against them and some of the breakdowns that we had defensively where the ball got right into the paint, but at the last second, we poke it away, steal it, block it. That’s not going to fly,'” Bennett said. “And the way we’re trying to do it is a hard way, but it’s worth it. We’ve got to ingrain the habits where there aren’t those breakdowns. So, I thought there were too many breakdowns defensively, and too many breakdowns offensively. … As you keep going up the ladder against bigger teams, that won’t fly. So that part was disappointing, but really excited about how hard the guys played. They just started gambling a little bit defensively and a little unsound offensively. So, we’ll grow and learn from that. But I know you’ll look at those numbers, this and that, but I look at the quality and where the ball ends up.”
Dunn echoed his coaches’ thoughts.
“We’re flying around really well, we’re recovering a lot,” Dunn said. “All of that’s really good for us. I know we’re going to play against way better teams. We have Wisconsin coming up. We have SMU or West Virginia. They’re great teams. Some of the lapses that we have, we can’t have against those teams and come ACC play, we can’t have those. So it’s coming back now to go back to the gym, watch film, and tweak the little things so we don’t have to get in those situations, but I’m very proud that we’re able to fly around and get those steals and get those blocks because we’ll always have breakdowns, but if we’re able to recover, that’s a great sign for us. As long as we’re able to tighten stuff up, we should be good.”
Dunn had a monster night statistically as he continued his stat-stuffing ways. He posted 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals, and 2 assists. The points and blocks set new career highs for the sophomore, who also made a career best 8 free throws in a career high 9 attempts. Dunn also thrilled the crowd with a dunk that will be part of Virginia lore far into the future.
Only Dunn cracked the 10-point plateau but six other players produced at least 5 points.
Beekman added 8 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocked shots. He shot 4-11 from the field with an 0-4 night from 3-point range. He also had 3 turnovers after he entered the contest with 1 in the first three games. Dante Harris added 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal in his first Virginia start, while Andrew Rohde added 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. Jake Groves came off the bench for 7 points despite an 0-3 night from 3, while Bond added 8 points to the cause. Blake Buchanan got his second straight start and posted 5 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 steal. Taine Murray had 4 points and 3 rebounds, while Jordan Minor made a bucket for 2 points and Bryce Walker scored his first collegiate point.
That’s the type of balanced approach that Virginia typically produces, but it wasn’t a particularly clean or efficient outing. Bennett alluded to some offensive hiccups as the Hoos played without Isaac McKneely, who sat out after rolling his ankle in Tuesday’s win. The Cavaliers committed 11 turnovers, a season high and half of the 22 turnovers committed in the first three games combined. Several of those miscues where plays where Texas Southern merely swiped at the ball and dislodged it on the way to 8 steals. UVA had a 19.3% turnover rate (turnovers per possession).
Virginia also had stretches where it struggled to get enough movement or space, which led to some difficult shot attempts. The Hoos shot 43.8% overall (21-48), 31.3% from 3-point range (5-16), and 71.4% from the free throw line (15-21). The outside shooting piece clearly showed some of the impact of McKneely’s absence, though Harris, Rohde, and Murray combined to go 4-5 from downtown (2-2 for Harris, 1-1 for Rohde, 1-2 for Murray) as they soaked up those minutes collectively.
As a result of some of the problems, the Hoos didn’t start to take control of the game until midway through the first half and they didn’t fully shake free until midway through the second half. A 16-2 run bridged from the 16:27 mark of the second half with a Buchanan free throw to the 7:36 mark on a putback and free throw from Groves finally put the game well in hand. At that point, UVA had a 50-25 lead. Other plays during that key run included an offensive rebound and assist from Dunn when Buchanan dunked a drop-off pass, a run-out dunk from Bond, and a scooped layup from Rohde.
“We were a bit impatient at times, trying to get something on the first side or just make some home run plays,” Bennett said. “[Texas Southern] played hard early … but I thought, over the course of the game, I thought our heart and energy maybe took a toll on them and obviously we made some nice plays, individual plays for sure.”