As the Virginia Cavaliers picked up their first win on Friday against the Radford Highlanders, Tony Bennett expanded his rotation from the Navy game to include sophomore Carson McCorkle and true freshman Taine Murray. Each impressed on either end of the floor and strengthened their case for more consistent minutes moving forward.
Leading UVA’s bench in minutes played, McCorkle played 17 minutes on the night and put up five points on 2-6 shooting and 1-4 from deep. That said, his effort defensively will have done wonders for his chances of additional minutes as his persona as a knock down shooter will mean nobody is concerned as to his minor shooting woes.
Carson McCorkle splashes his first bucket of the season!— Locker Room Access (@LockerRoomInc) November 13, 2021
UVA 55, Radford 32. 11 minutes to go pic.twitter.com/1ufTVNmwsN
Murray played the second-most bench minutes behind McCorkle and hit his one three-pointer on the night to score the first points of his career. But, more notably than that, the fact that he played all his minutes as a small ball four was particularly interesting. At 6’5”, Murray is sturdily built yet is unquestionably a guard. Yet, his defensive performance on Friday was encouraging as the ‘Hoos looked to match Radford’s small ball lineups and is indicative of a potential critical role for the Kiwi moving forward.
“We’re still finding ourselves and figuring out our rotations,” says Bennett, as he adds that “guys just got to keep working.” As for Murray and McCorkle specifically, Bennett mentions how “I thought they both practiced the right way and then got in early [against Radford] and they did a nice job defensively. And it was good to see Taine knock down a three as well.”
He also points out that “I liked how hard Taine played and battled. It was good experience for him.” In regards to McCorkle, Bennett recalls how “I really challenged him the last couple days,” and that the Greensboro native “did a nice job in practice.”
McCorkle acknowledges that challenge from Bennett, saying that his head coach “challenged me to have grit,” and to “defensively, just kind of play like my hair’s on fire.” For a player who saw very limited playing time last season, McCorkle emphasizes how that “actually brought a smile to my face, to see him yell at me and get after me. I really enjoyed that.”
He continues, cheekily admitting that Bennett doesn’t yell that often, that “he’s got more of a stern talking to,” but seriously adding that “I think if a coach is getting on you and yelling at you it means they care and they want the best for you. So, to see that more this year than I did last year, I kind of felt like I had an opportunity [if I] continue to play hard.”
As the ‘Hoos will need contributions from their inexperienced bench, these performances from McCorkle and Murray on Friday along with the coaching staff’s obviously increasing faith in each of them indicates that they could play big roles for this team this season. And, with how too many young guys in this program have flamed out in recent years, that’s incredibly encouraging in the short and long term for this program.