In their season opener, the Virginia Cavaliers secured a 73-61 victory over the NC Central Eagles in a game that the ‘Hoos held a comfortable lead in for the majority of the contest. A reasonable showing from NCCU meant that UVA didn’t run away with it, though, as Tony Bennett’s squad still had to turn it on late to pull away.
Virginia makes a run when it needed to
For a moment in the second half, it looked as if UVA was squarely on upset watch and was at risk of losing two season-openers in a row after falling to Navy last season. Specifically, NC Central took a 44-43 lead with 14:21 remaining in the game. After a timeout, UVA proceeded to go on a 15-2 run over the next 4:11 of play and essentially clinched the win.
That run was largely a result of Reece Beekman switching to a gear we hadn’t seen in the game before that as he had five points, two assists, and a steal in that time frame. After going up 58-46, Virginia largely maintained its lead for the rest of regulation.
In fact, there were a number of second half adjustments which the ‘Hoos made as they only turned the ball over twice in the final twenty minutes after giving the ball up six times in the first and only allowed two NCCU offensive rebounds in the second stanza after allowing six in the first. Hopefully the first half issues were more rust than anything else and the second half performance will be the norm for UVA moving forward.
NC Central deserves credit
This game was closer than it should’ve been. Part of that was UVA not playing its best ball, but NC Central still played a good game. The Eagles hit some tough shots with hands in their faces as they finished 8-19 (42.1%) from beyond the arc. Then, while they were in foul trouble for most of the game, they also had six steals, nabbed eight offensive rebounds, and generally found ways to stay in the game against a superior opponent.
Looks like UVA will run an eight to nine man rotation
Within the first eight or so minutes of the first half, Tony Bennett had already subbed in four guys off the bench with Isaac McKneely, Ben Vander Plas, Francisco Caffaro, and Taine Murray each checking in. With Murray only playing 2:13 in the game, he looks set to be the ninth guy in the rotation who is on the verge of regular minutes.
After Bennett said in his preseason presser that he had seven guys above the rest, McKneely and Vander Plas checking in first and second for the ‘Hoos seemingly confirmed that they are the two alongside last season’s starters who will be assured minutes this season. Meanwhile, Francisco Caffaro continued to get meaningful minutes behind Kadin Shedrick at center while UVA only occasionally went small with Gardner and Vander Plas in the front-court.
Meanwhile, Isaac Traudt and Ryan Dunn didn’t play in this contest, indicating that they’re on the outside of the rotation looking in. Their classmate, Leon Bond, will reportedly redshirt his freshman season.
Per radio, Tony Bennett says plan is for #UVa to redshirt Leon Bond this season.— Brad Franklin (@Cavs_Corner) November 8, 2022
Three-point shooting was there
Whew baby. It was rare last season that UVA’s shooting carried the team. This season, though, the additions of Ben Vander Plas and Isaac McKneely in particular look set to yield much needed threats from deep while both Armaan Franklin and Reece Beekman appear set for improved seasons as outside shooters.
As a team, Virginia shot 11-25 (44%) from beyond the arc as the Wahoos’ proficiency carried the offense. In fact, UVA hit more three-pointers than two-pointers in this contest. Some of that is because Bennett’s squad attempted 30 free throws, but, still, it’s clear that the ‘Hoos can win games with their three-point shooting.
On the night, Franklin went 4-7 from deep, Vander Plas finished 2-5, Beekman hit 2-3, Clark made 2-6, and McKneely shot 1-4. With a number of those misses being in and outs, it’s pretty encouraging after UVA struggled to even be respected on the perimeter last season. Believe it or not, those 11 total makes from deep were more than UVA hit in any single game last season.
There’s plenty of room for improvement
The fact that this game was relatively close indicates that there is still plenty of room for this team to improve on from this game. Early turnovers and struggles on the defensive boards kept NC Central in the game, while the offense stagnated at times and the defense struggled to make stops especially early in the second half.
In a similar vein, UVA’s leading scorer from last year Jayden Gardner only scored three points in this game on 0-4 shooting from the field. That’s actually only the second game he’s not made a field goal throughout his entire career.
Additionally, while the ‘Hoos started fairly hot at the charity stripe, they finished 22-30 (73.3%) from the line. That’s not necessarily bad, but when an opponent provides so many opportunities at the line, one would hope for improved efficiency especially considering five of the misses came from Clark and Gardner.
Altogether though, this was a good win for the Wahoos as they responded at the right time and displayed qualities that indicate further success for the team down the road. And that’s all you can really ask for in a season opener.