Coming off just two days of rest, the Virginia men’s basketball team secured another conference win with a 60-38 victory over the Miami Hurricanes on Monday. This win extends UVA’s nation-best home win streak to 23 games and its ACC-best win streak to seven games.
The Cavaliers started off slowly, but were able to overcome an early deficit and put the contest out of reach with plenty of game still to play. It was a very collective effort offensively and Tony Bennett’s team played a strong game defensively, not allowing anything easy for the Canes. Miami’s 38 points are the team’s lowest on the season and the lowest as a program since 1985. In fact, UVA held the Hurricanes to their lowest scoring output since Dec. 28, 1948 (Miami 37-35 over Princeton). Virginia has now won four straight against Miami.
“It wasn’t a slow start defensively, and I think that was important,” Bennett said. “We were getting decent looks, kinda got into the lane at the rim, but just kept chipping away I thought. I thought it was a real complete performance. I think them losing [Kyshawn] George affected them, ya know they don’t play a ton of guys, so when they lose one of their perimeter starters, that affected them. Like we’ve done the last few games we moved hard on offense and tried to play really hard defensively. We just really tried to focus on not letting them get stuff in transition. That was really important because they can get going.”
Virginia started just 1-6 from the field and scored 2 points over the opening six minutes. The Canes jumped out to an early 7-2 lead as a result. Coach Bennett’s team didn’t get rattled, though. In the past, early scoring struggles have plagued the Cavaliers. The Notre Dame game in December comes to mind in which the Irish got out to a 13-0 lead and never looked back. That wasn’t the case on Monday night.
Following the slow start, Virginia responded with a 12-0 surge. Miami eventually ended the run with two made shots, but once again, the Hoos responded. This time they came up with an 11-0 run. At one point, the Cavaliers had a block, steal, and another block on three straight Miami possessions. After the second block, courtesy of Blake Buchanan, Reece Beekman was able to find a wide open Taine Murray in the corner for a 3-pointer, leading to a Miami timeout at the 3:29 mark. These two runs allowed Virginia to take a 29-17 lead to the half.
It was an all-around team effort on the offensive end. Virginia had nine different point-scorers, and dished out 20 assists on the team’s 26 made field goals. The game plan from Coach Bennett was obvious, get the ball to the paint. The Cavaliers scored 32 points in the paint compared to Miami’s 18. Two of these came on a Beekman alley-oop to Ryan Dunn at the 14:23 mark in the second half. After Beekman secured the loose ball, the two got out on the fast break before the senior threw the ball high in the air for Dunn to emphatically slam home. The sophomore forward finished with 8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
Beekman especially made an effort to drive to the basket. Of his 16 total points, 10 came off of layups. This constant work to get to the rim forced the Miami defense to crash, allowing more open looks on the outside. There was a series in the second half where Beekman assisted three different teammates on three straight possessions. It all happened because of how much the Miami defense respected his ability to drive. He ended the night with 16 points on 6-11 (54.5%) shooting, and registered 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and a block.
Overall it was a strong night shooting the ball for Virginia. As a team, the Hoos shot 26-54 (48.1%) from the field, 5-11 (45.5%) from three, and 3-6 (50.0%) from the free throw line. As mentioned earlier, it was a real group effort. In addition to Dunn and Beekman, fellow starter Isaac McKneely added 9 points on 4-9 (44.4%) overall shooting and 1-3 (33.3%) from behind the arc. Virginia totaled 23 points off the bench. Graduate transfer Jake Groves continued his hot streak, finishing the night with 12 points on 5-9 (55.6%) shooting overall and 2-4 (50.0%) from 3-point range. Buchanan also continued to find his rhythm as he scored 6 points.
“It was good basketball,” said Bennett. “I thought we moved hard, got the ball to the right spots, had a variety of shots, didn’t shoot a ton of 3’s, but I thought we got into the lane and made the plays. Had some good drives, good pocket passes, and the guys were sharing the ball, and to me, that was good Virginia basketball on both ends.”
Defensively, UVA played a very strong game right from the opening tip, and it started with the perimeter. Miami came into this game as a good 3-point shooting team. On the season, the Canes had shot 38.1% from behind the arc, ranking 23rd nationally. The Cavaliers held Miami to a mere 2-20 (10%) from 3-point range to set the tone.
That effort began with strong pressure on the ball. Throughout the game, the Virginia defenders made sure to get out on Miami and not allow any open looks from 3-point range. This approach definitely rattled the Canes, throwing the team off its rhythm. During one Miami possession in the second half, guard Wooga Poplar passed up a wide open 3 to try and drive to the rim. Murray was there to slow him down, causing Poplar to frantically throw the ball away and it resulted in a back-court violation. That single possession really encapsulated the whole game. Miami simply got thrown off its game plan and didn’t have anything to lean back on.
As the game progressed, the Virginia defense just got stronger and stronger, making it really hard for Miami to generate any offense. The Cavaliers finished with 8 blocks and 7 steals as a team. Virginia scored 15 points off the 11 Miami turnovers.
Dante Harris continues to recover from an ankle injury that occurred in the first half of the season. Postgame, Coach Bennett discussed how the guard is still experiencing a sore ankle. Despite this nagging injury, Harris gave a boost off the bench, especially defensively. He registered a block, a steal, and 2 rebounds, but he did more than just that. His on-ball defense was suffocating, and he seemed to consistently find himself in Miami passing lanes. During one possession in the second half, Harris quickly rotated on the backside, and ultimately poked the ball out of bounds before the Canes could get an easy look under the basket. His constant energy was great and allowed Beekman to rest a little more than normal.
Buchanan in particular played a good game off the bench too. It was obvious that Jordan Minor was a little slower after having the difficult task of guarding Clemson’s PJ Hall on Saturday. Buchanan provided some strong defense against Miami’s Norchad Omier. At the 3:42 mark in the first half, Omier tried a turnaround jumper on the freshman, but Buchanan swatted it home. A little over a minute later, Buchanan rejected another shot, this time right at the rim against guard Matthew Cleveland. When Buchanan is able to provide Minor some rest, it makes the Virginia defense much stronger as a whole.
“Especially Blake in this one,” said Bennett on the team’s defense against Omier. “Jordan’s been terrific for us, but I thought tonight Blake’s activity, he was mobile and he was flying around. Jordan was good and he bothered him at certain times, but he didn’t have quite that pep in his step and that’s the beauty of it. Those guys can complement each other. Maybe Jordan was still fatigued from going against PJ Hall on Saturday, and he did good things, don’t get me wrong, but I thought Blake’s activity was noticeable.”
It feels like year after year, Coach Bennett and the Cavaliers find a way to climb the conference standings. Well, the 2023-24 season seems to be no different. Virginia notched another home ACC win, and simply continues to improve as the season progresses. The Pack Line defense especially is really starting to come together. While many were quick to write this team off, all it took was a little time for the Hoos to put themselves near the top of the league.
The Cavaliers will have a slight break before going back on the road for yet another Saturday away game. This time, Virginia will travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State at 8 p.m.
“I think we’ve established some things,” Bennett said. “It’s just about execution and hustle and confidence. It really is. We’ll play a team next in Florida State who’s a different kind of team on the road, the way their size, their depth, how they switch everything. Every opponent presents a different kind of challenge, but I said our defense has to travel, that has to be a constant for us. There is a rotation these last few games where we’re going about nine deep and getting good lifts from most everyone. That’s been important in this run, and you just keep chasing quality, that’s what we’ve talked about a lot.”