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Five takeaways from UVA basketball’s road victory over Georgia Tech

The ‘Hoos heated up from three and picked up their first true road victory.

Virginia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers jump-started their first ACC winning streak of 2024 with their first true road victory this season against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. After a slow start dug UVA into a 11-point rut, the ‘Hoos heated up and took a four-point lead into halftime, which they extended early in the second half. While Georgia Tech made things interesting late with a hot shooting stretch, strong offensive performances by Reece Beekman (19 points) and Isaac McKneely (six threes) carried the Cavaliers to a big ACC victory.

Three-point shooting finally gets going

The Cavaliers are at their best with their shooters aggressively running off screens and hunting open looks beyond the arc. They took just three threes in the first 10 minutes of the first half and unsurprisingly fell behind 24-13; while a willingness to let it fly doesn’t account for the entirety of Virginia’s ensuing 20-5 run to close the half, the UVA offense certainly benefited from more assertiveness from its guards. The ‘Hoos would finish the game a scorching 11 for 23 beyond the arc (47.8%).

Isaac McKneely initially struggled to find space to get his shot off (a common issue in ACC play for the sophomore), but started to hunt his shot in transition and semi-transition — always a good thing for a Cavalier roster which struggles to create great looks in the half court. McKneely finished a typically efficient 6-9 beyond the arc on the back of a very strong second half. Oh, and he also knocked down multiple kill-shot threes: one from near half court as the shot clock expired to give UVA a 14-point lead, and one with less than a minute left to extend Virginia’s lead to seven points.

Reece Beekman also stood out: attempting catch-and-shoot threes isn’t the point guard’s natural playstyle, but he effectively flattened out some of his mover-blocker cuts to take advantage of an overaggressive Georgia Tech defensive scheme and pop to the corner for wide open threes. Beekman finished the game 2-6 from three, with most of those attempts coming during a pivotal mid-game run; while he didn’t shoot the lights out, his willingness to let it fly bodes well for the ‘Hoos going forward.

Reece Beekman continues to lead the offensive attack

Virginia’s star senior point guard rose to the challenge on both ends of the floor against Georgia Tech. He finished with 19 points and 11 assists, and the Cavaliers needed every single one of them down the stretch to fend off a late run by the Yellow Jackets. Reece hunted for his own shot more than usual, especially beyond the arc where he attempted six threes, but also created plenty of open looks around the basket. And against full-court pressure down the stretch, UVA relied on Beekman to break the press and run the show in late-clock situations.

Beekman also moved into second place all time on the Virginia steals leaderboard with 200, tying Sean Singletary. He needs just 23 steals to pass Othell Wilson for the school record — a record he frankly deserves after years of playing outstanding defense on opposing ball-handlers. He might not attain the postseason success of recent Virginia legends, but Beekman deserves a spot in the Cavalier pantheon in his own right. Without his impact on both ends of the floor, Virginia wouldn’t be anywhere near NCAA tournament contention.

Virginia finally shakes its road woes

The Cavaliers entered tonight having lost every single one of their true road games this season by an average of 19 points. Early on, things didn’t look good; an early 11-point lead for the Yellow Jackets felt like deja vu for the ‘Hoos, as eight of Virginia’s first 16 attempts came from the midrange and Georgia Tech hit tough shot after tough shot.

Credit Virginia for settling in after that and putting together an excellent run to close the first half and enter halftime with a four-point. The ‘Hoos absolutely clamped down defensively, exposing the offensive limitations of some of Georgia Tech’s best players like Baye Ndongo and keeping the home team uncomfortable throughout the night.

After a strong start to the second half, the Cavaliers didn’t let their foot off the gas, handling the zone defense and full-court press Georgia Tech threw at them effectively and keeping the crowd from getting back into the game. When the Yellow Jackets did eventually cut it to four behind a last-ditch late run, UVA calmly answered with an Isaac McKneely dagger three; holding a lead might be what this iteration of the Cavaliers does best, as they don’t have to rush their offense and can methodically grind teams down. The ‘Hoos deserve credit for settling in and holding on even as things got tight down the stretch after their recent lack of composure away from home.

Defense remains key to UVA’s identity

After some ugly outings on the road — too many open threes allowed, too few turnovers — Virginia returned to typical pack-line form against Georgia Tech. Following a recent lull as a defensive playmaker, Ryan Dunn stood out during Virginia’s decisive run with three vital blocks. The ‘Hoos forced 13 turnovers leading to 21 points, while only turning it over 9 times. Georgia Tech struggled to get anything going with any consistency

Miles Kelly entered the game averaging over 15 points per game as Georgia Tech’s leading scorer, but effective defense by Virginia forced Kelly into tough looks off the dribble and an inefficient eight points on 3-11 from the field. As a team, the Yellow Jackets made a fair number of their jump shots including nine threes but weren’t able to get to the basket with enough consistency to threaten the Cavaliers, finishing with a paltry 18 points in the paint.

A late run by Georgia Tech as they frantically played catch-up means Virginia’s defensive efficiency numbers from this game will be middling, but those game-long numbers won’t capture the importance of a lockdown defensive stretch spanning the end of the first half and beginning of the second half which proved pivotal for Virginia’s ultimate victory. At the end of the day, this team still needs to hang its hat on the defensive end of the ball if it’s going to cement itself as a top team in the ACC, and their strong stretch tonight was an important step towards establishing that identity.

Serviceable frontcourt performance enough for UVA to get it done

While no one had a standout game, Virginia’s frontcourt held up well against a young but talented Georgia Tech roster of big men. Jordan Minor continues to provide productive minutes simply by hustling, aggressively rim-running, and remaining in the right spot on both ends of the floor. He finished with 11 points on 4-5 shooting and 3-6 from the line

As the de facto 4 in the starting five, Ryan Dunn played active defense (as always) and came up with some huge offensive rebounds against the Tech zone; those are exactly the sorts of contributions you need from a player who, occasional late-shot-clock-three aside, doesn’t bring much spacing to the court. He finished with a game-best +15 plus-minus, an accurate reflection of his defensive contributions. Even Jake Groves, who struggled for most of the game, knocked down a huge three late to extend Virginia’s lead to eight after a scoring drought allowed Georgia Tech to creep back into the game.

Virginia held serve on the glass, finishing with a dead even rebounding margin as both teams grabbed 29 boards. They also scored 16 more points in the paint than Georgia Tech, who scored only 10 points at the basket in the first 35 minutes of the game. It took a team effort to hold up in the frontcourt — and it likely will for the rest of the season — but the Cavaliers were up to the task today.