With a bounce-back victory, the Virginia Cavaliers matter-of-factly beat the NC State Wolfpack by a final score of 63-50 and improved to 18-4 on the season and 10-3 in conference play. Following the win, we have five takeaways for the ‘Hoos moving forward.
UVA handles business against a dangerous team
Coming off UVA’s first loss in nearly a month, there were understandably a number of questions for this squad considering how the seven game win streak didn’t come against the stiffest of competition and how Virginia Tech exposed defensive liabilities. But, despite a tough road loss to a rival, the Wahoos responded with a relatively comfortable victory against an AP top-25 squad. NC State is no slouch and its roster of guards who can attack off the dribble and threatening front-court posed a serious threat for the Cavaliers.
But Virginia quite simply outplayed NC State. Almost every Wahoo straight up won their matchup on either end as Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark held Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner to a combined 9-34 shooting (4-18 from three), Kadin Shedrick and Jayden Gardner severely limited DJ Burns’ impact, and Isaac McKneely put up a spirited effort and clutch final few minutes in comparison to opposing complementary guard Casey Morsell.
Winning like this and managing to play a complete 40 minutes against a team that was still in the conversation to win the ACC Regular Season Title is significant. Not folding or ever truly wavering late in the game was impressive. Isaac McKneely’s backside block and catch-and-shoot three in the final minutes were evidence of how complete the roster has become and how its managed to consistently find production from different guys.
Kadin Shedrick answers the call
The biggest storyline for the Cavaliers in recent weeks has been the struggles when guarding opposing big men who can score the basketball. Especially with Kadin Shedrick falling out of the rotation as UVA utilized small ball lineups, the staff relied on its Inside Triangle offense, and he suffered from extensive foul trouble, it had started to seem like defending the post was going to be a severe limiting factor for the ‘Hoos this season.
As our Ben Wieland laid out well in this story, much of the issues for the Wahoo front-court related to the fact that Shedrick had almost become unplayable in the eyes of Tony Bennett and his staff. With the matchup against NC State’s 6’9”, 275 bowling ball of a post threat DJ Burns looming, how Virginia would defend Burns was an unknown before tipoff.
Well, after one turn around jump hook for Burns and a foul from his defender Ben Vander Plas, Bennett stuck Shedrick in the game. From that point onward, Burns scored just six points as Shedrick provided phenomenal individual defense and helped well when the State guards attacked the rim. Shedrick even drew Burns’ second foul (a charge) with 7:59 left in the first half, meaning the NC State big man had to sit for all but the last offensive possession of the first period and ended up on the bench for the majority of the second half as well.
While the Raleigh native was sound on defense, only fouling three times in 26 minutes (which is an improvement), he also added some encouraging offensive production. His extreme efficiency as a finisher this season continued, scoring 10 points on 3-5 shooting (4-6 from the line).
Over-reacting to one game and one matchup may be unwise. But considering how obvious it was that Shedrick needed a shot of confidence, this performance was massive for him and is a critical development for UVA moving forward. Upcoming opponents such as Duke (Kyle Filiposwki, Derick Lively), Boston College (Quinten Post), North Carolina (Armando Bacot), and Clemson (PJ Hall) have offensive threatening bigs who Shedrick will need to play a significant role in defending. Thus, him having this sort of bounce back outing projects very well for the final seven games of the regular season.
Three-point shooting is uncharacteristically quiet again
After UVA shot 6-18 from deep in Blacksburg on Saturday, the ‘Hoos shot just eight three-pointers against the Wolfpack as Isaac McKneely made the only two triples of the game. Armaan Franklin (two points, 0-5 FG, 0-1 3PT) and Ben Vander Plas (four points, 2-3 FG, 0-1 3PT) were notably quiet for the second game running. Since those two were the primary beneficiaries of Virginia playing small and running Inside Triangle during the winning streak, it’s curious to see them in the background in the last two contests.
I don’t believe that relying less on shooting threes or Franklin and BVP not scoring at volume for a couple games is anything to be concerned about. UVA just found different ways to score the basketball against the Wolfpack.
The Vander Plas-Shedrick back and forth is interesting, though. If BVP isn’t lighting it up from deep and the ‘Hoos are playing against somebody like Burns, Shedrick playing the way he did against NSCU should mean that he’s the better option at the five. Logically, his +16 in 26 minutes led the team while Vander Plas’ -3 in 19 minutes was last versus Kevin Keatts’ squad. Ideally, the balance of going small or playing traditionally will be beneficial for Tony Bennett and his staff and allow them to more effectively match up with their opponents and, at times, dictate how their opponents have to play them.
Wahoo guards find success touching the paint
While the Cavaliers didn’t rely on the outside shooting tonight, point guards Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark did well to attack off the dribble and to touch the paint then work from there. Beekman’s 15-point (6-11 from the field, 3-5 from the line), four-assist night included a number of really impressive drives to the basket as he finished well through contact.
Meanwhile, Clark may have only hit one field goal and had a couple of his layups blocked, but he hit all four of his free throws, drew DJ Burns’ fourth foul with over 16 minutes left in the game, and added six assists.
It’s no secret by now what Beekman and Clark bring to the table. But their composure and ability to adjust to individual matchups and opponent schemes on either end of the floor continues to impress as this season progresses. They’re nearly unequivocally the best backcourt in the ACC and nights like these only further cement that standing.
Jayden Gardner continues to produce
In his last four games, Jayden Gardner is averaging 18.3 points per contest as he’s definitively come out of his shell and is re-establishing his presence as Virginia’s most productive scorer in the front-court. While his points can often come inefficiently as he is accustomed to taking too many ill-advised midrange jumpers, he was altogether pretty effective against the Wolfpack. In 32 minutes, Gardner scored 18 on 6-12 shooting and, importantly since he’d shot 62.3% from the line coming into the game, 6-6 from the charity stripe.
Game to game, it’s hard to necessarily predict how impactful Gardner can be on offense as his reliance on the midrange game is inherently volatile. But especially against State who tend to run drop coverage against ball screens, Gardner can consistently find space in the intermediate areas of the offensive half-court. If he’s hitting at a decent clip, he can carry this offense on any given night. Ensuring that’s still the case only adds further versatility to UVA’s offense and its lineup variations.