Virginia entered Tuesday night 2-0 and was looking to extend their winning streak to three games as they took on NC A&T (0-2). Virginia was coming off a tight win over Florida on Friday. NC A&T has had a sluggish start to the season, losing to Pitt and UNCG, averaging 97 points against.
Both teams were slow out of the gate on offense, totaling just 12 points between both squads through five minutes of play. In that time, Ryan Dunn was a bright spot for the Cavaliers. Dunn had two rebounds, a block, a field goal, and 2 made free throws. Ryan Dunn had his strongest performance thus far this season; he would continue to be a rebound machine all night, finishing with 11 boards and 13 points for the double-double. Tony Bennett praised Dunn for his work in the postgame press conference, saying that he “brings a lot of energy” and was “glad to see him get on the offensive glass.”
NC A&T had their moments as well, out-scoring the Cavaliers 32-31 in the second half. Landon Glasper had 18 points for the Aggies, which included shooting 5 for 11 (45%) from three points. Glasper had tough assignments with UVA, who paid close attention to him on defense.
The Cavaliers rolled deep into the roster tonight, playing 12 guys. The starting 5 featured the usual suspects, with a slight twist. After Blake Buchanan’s standout performance against Florida, he earned a starting spot over Jake Groves. Reece Beekman was not as strong as he has been, with only two made field goals on nine attempts for five points. He did have seven assists, a steal, and four rebounds. Andrew Rhode had a similar performance, with five assists and 6 points. Isaac McKneely continued to shoot the ball well from beyond the arc, shooting 2 for 2, but McKneely’s night was cut short when he went down with an ankle injury. Coach Tony Bennett said McKneely got X-rays but nothing was broken and he would be evaluated by the medical staff. Buchanan was not as strong as he was against Florida, with six points in part due to his limited time, just over 15 minutes, but he did have a fantastic swat block on the weak side of the rim.
The bench provided the biggest lift for Tony Bennett’s squad, contributing 42 points. Leon Bond III led the way, playing effectively on the perimeter and in the post. Bond flaunted his athleticism with multiple put-backs and some very shifty layups. He finished with 16 points (8 for 10), three rebounds, and a block. Dante Harris was solid off the bench. Harris came into the game and immediately created a spark from his energy and hard work. Only 2 points on the score sheet do not reflect the intensity Harris brought, something Coach Bennett holds in high regard. Jake Groves checked in to give the Wahoos 11 points, six of which came from 3’s and nine rebounds. Jordan Minor chipped in six, and Taine Murray had seven. Tristan Howe and Bryce Walker also got a chance to play. Tony Bennett was very excited that these guys were able to get some time, talking about how it never gets old getting to watch guys take the court for the first time. Bennett also highlighted the importance of getting the bench into the game, saying “Those reps are important regardless of the score.”
Friday’s game against Florida was underpinned by poor performances at the free-throw line and terrible rebounding. Tony Bennett has stressed the importance of making free throws all season and Virginia did improve in that department tonight making 12 of 16 (75%). The rebounding was also much better tonight than it was against Florida. Virginia had 42 rebounds to NC A&T’s just 24. Jake Groves reported that boards were a main focus of practice this week and he felt that that practice made a real difference in the game tonight.
Looking ahead, Virginia will take on Texas Southern on Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena. Texas Southern is a little bit more of a premier program. The Tigers are 0-2 on the season but took top team Arizona St deep into the game and limited them to just 63 points. Thursday should offer UVA a challenge as they continue to try and build chemistry and experience amongst this younger group.