The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team pulled out another closer-than-comfortable victory tonight, this time against the James Madison Dukes to the tune of a 55-50 final score. With the win, we’ve got five takeaways for the Wahoos moving forward.
Reece Beekman’s hamstring injury changes the equation
When Reece Beekman came down hard after a transition layup and had to come off the floor with roughly 16 minutes remaining in the first half, the entire equation changed for the Wahoos in this game. Arguably UVA’s best and most important player, Beekman is now dealing with what seemed to be a strained hamstring from this game and a turned ankle from the Michigan game a week ago. After he was clearly limited against Florida State, his absence for 36 minutes against the Dukes severely limited Virginia on both sides of the ball.
Beekman is UVA’s best on-ball defender and most dangerous initiator on offense. Missing him for nearly an entire game hurts tremendously and meant that James Madison was able to get downhill more easily while the Virginia offense struggled to produce open looks. Considering how he and (to a lesser extent) Kihei Clark are who make the UVA offense work, not being able to rely on him made life very difficult tonight. So, the fact that the Wahoos were still able to pull out a victory against a decent JMU team without its best player is a win in and of itself.
Beyond this win, it would appear that Beekman should be healthy for Virginia’s next game with #1 Houston coming to town on December 17th. After his injury he seemed to still be moving around pretty well, but Tony Bennett said postgame that Beekman was made unavailable by the team’s doctor. Hopefully he’ll be able to utilize this time off to heal up before the potential #1 vs #2 battle with Houston.
Ryan Dunn is becoming x-factor wing UVA needs
Win, loss, or draw, this was Ryan Dunn’s coming out party as a defender and a playmaker in big moments. Scoring four points in nineteen minutes, both of his baskets were quite notable as his first half poster had JPJ going crazy and his tough baseline drive with 36 seconds remaining put UVA up by four and put the game out of reach for JMU.
While he got beat on the possession before by Takal Morson, he was essentially flawless otherwise as a perimeter defender, blocking three shots without sacrificing good positional defense or effective shot contention. His length and versatility at 6’8” with a meaningful wingspan takes up space on defense while his footwork and composure are really impressive for a true freshman. Especially considering how this team does lack some length on the wing, he’s got the potential to continue blossoming into a bigger role and be an x-factor for this roster.
Virginia wins with defense
After the game, Tony Bennett noted that he finds this type of basketball beautiful. While many Wahoo fans will agree with him by now, both teams scoring fewer than 1.0 points per possession meant that this one was a defensive battle. Neither squad hit too many shots as the game came down to getting stops and trying to make enough plays on the other end. Despite some issues with rotations to the backside so far this year, UVA’s defense stepped up when it needed to most, holding the Dukes to 27.3% shooting from the floor and 30.4% from three.
Two straight five-point wins against admittedly inferior opponents aren’t tremendous indicators of this team’s ceiling, but they do speak to Virginia’s proclivity for winning close games and finding ways to gut out victories. UVA continues to be multiple and find different ways to win ball games and, particularly with Beekman injured, that’s what counts.
Jayden Gardner and Kihei Clark come up huge
With Beekman out, veterans Jayden Gardner and Kihei Clark stepped up in his absence. They’ll each be frustrated with their poor free throw shooting — Clark shot 6-12 from the line while Gardner went 4-8 — but they both made big offensive plays down the stretch which kept UVA ahead. Clark’s 18-point, seven assist performance over 39 minutes was much, much needed while Gardner’s 14 points, eight rebounds, and overall physicality on the inside helped to keep the offense afloat in big moments.
Having the experience of those two guys and the individual ability that they both have is additionally meaningful in games such as this. Neither was perfect, but in close games, plays need to be made and they combined to make just enough to win.
Poor shooting is becoming a concerning trend
This one felt very close to a carbon copy of Saturday’s win against FSU. The number of UVA three-pointers that hit the inside of the rim and then bounced out was practically criminal. On the night, Virginia shot 5-21 (23.8%) from beyond the three-point line in a continuation of recent struggles to knock down shots from the perimeter. And, even worse than that, UVA was only 12-24 (50%) from the free throw line as the ‘Hoos weren’t able to effectively exploit JMU’s second half foul trouble nor the aggression of their offense.
On top of that, the struggles from deep have been a concerning trend over the last number of games. UVA is mostly taking good shots and a lot of them have taken bad bounces after hitting the inside of the rim. Still though, the trend of missing shots is concerning as Virginia approaches conference play.