Virginia pulls out an ugly win to start ACC play
With FSU entering today 1-7 and UVA coming off a big win on the road against Michigan, there was rightfully an expectation that Virginia would blow the doors off a surprisingly bad Leonard Hamilton team. Yet, after the Seminoles kept things competitive against #5 Purdue and only lost to the Boilermakers by ten points, this proved to be a more challenging contest than many expected.
To some extent, that’s just a matter of Florida State’s style and how their length on defense and ability to switch can particularly hinder UVA’s offense. On the other hand, this was kind of gross and a sign that the team we feared this group would be is still a possibility. By that I mean the negative side of returning all five starters from an NIT team, the Virginia of last season that had an offense which was too stagnant and inconsistent to handle bad teams on a bad night and collapsed in the clutch. In fact, the way this game unfolded was eerily similar to Virginia’s loss to FSU at home last year when the Seminoles had a late run and pulled out the victory on a Matthew Cleveland buzzer-beating three.
But, perhaps as an opposing sign indicating how UVA has improved since last year, the Wahoos got the win. Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark combined to make 7-8 free throws in the final minute of play to close the door. And, while they definitely didn’t make it easy on themselves with late turnovers and bad fouls, a win is a win is a win.
Halftime adjustments spark a second half run again
After only scoring 21 first half points against what has been a bad Florida State defense, the Wahoos came out in the second half and scored 13 points in the first 2:32. Considering how UVA did something similar against Michigan to cut an eleven point halftime deficit to just two points after five minutes and also had a huge run to pull away from Baylor after the break, the adjustments made at halftime continue to give the ‘Hoos a boost.
Granted, while the run out of halftime in this win wasn’t to the same extent as in prior games, the 22-8 scoring margin in the opening 8:44 of the second period put UVA in control of the game which they wouldn’t relinquish.
UVA continues to struggle from the outside
It was obvious that the 51.5% rate of three-point shooting success from UVA’s first three games of the season wouldn’t hold up. Yet, the regression has been quite steep since then. The Cavaliers finished 5-19 from long range against the Seminoles and have now shot 19-59 (32.2%) in their last four outings.
Of course, some of that is simply dumb luck. Ben Vander Plas in particular had a pair of triples bounce in and out while Isaac McKneely had one or two of those. Still, it’s been frustrating to watch this offense fail to convert on solid opportunities. Fortunately, the UVA attack has enough going for it that hitting outside shots isn’t an absolute necessity. But, against better teams like Houston, or even James Madison, this type of success (or lack thereof) when shooting the ball could come back to bite the ‘Hoos.
Kihei Clark carries the Wahoo offense to a victory
With Reece Beekman looking to be a bit limited due to his ankle injury against Michigan on Tuesday, Kihei Clark took control of the UVA offense in this game as he led the team in scoring with 18 points on 4-9 shooting from the field, 1-3 from three, and 9-10 from the free throw line. Despite heavy usage, he didn’t cough the ball up too many times with three turnovers versus his three assists and did well in creating offense by driving the paint and then making decisions from there.
Hopefully for Virginia, Beekman will recover especially over the final and holiday breaks coming up. Yet it’s good to know that even in his absence, Clark was still able to run the offense and force the FSU defense to rotate. Obviously he’s carried the team offensively at points throughout his career so this isn’t a new development. But, once again, that points to how valuable his return for a fifth season is.
Virginia’s proficiency at the free throw line remains very valuable
Following this win, UVA is now ranked fifth in the country in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) as the Wahoos attempted 26 free throws against the Seminoles and relied on their success there while not shooting well from the floor. And, perhaps more importantly, Virginia made 21 of those attempts (80.8%) and improved on the 72.9% free throw rate from the first six games of the season.
The ability to get to the line for this group comes from a variety of factors. The guards’ aggressiveness getting downhill, the dominance of the big men on the interior, and the threat of perimeter shooting makes life difficult for defenses. Against a young and sometimes undisciplined FSU defense, this experienced Wahoo team exploited those issues to an impressive extent.