The Virginia Cavaliers men’s Basketball team opened their season Monday against Texas-based Tarleton State. The Cavaliers were 14-2 in season-opening games under head coach Tony Bennet and improved to 15-2, topping Tarleton 80-50.
The Wahoos imposed their will on both sides of the court led by returning senior and star Reece Beekman, who had 16 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. Fellow returner Isaac McKneely has seemed to return back to last season’s form shooting 4-8 from behind the line with three points on four shots at the free throw. Only 28.1% of UVA scoring returned from last year, so getting McKneely and Beekman in the driver’s seat is paramount.
Tony Bennett was able to rotate through a total of 11 guys. The first guys off the bench were Blake Buchanan and Leon Bond III. Blake Buchanan played the five spot, giving UVA a bigger presence in the paint. Buchanan finished with four rebounds and a block. Tarleton often opts to play a small ball five outside approach, which forces Buchanan to play perimeter defense. Perimeter defense is not a typical job for a center but Buchanan is agile given his size and handled the task well.
Leon Bond III was the next man off the bench for the Cavaliers. Bond is a redshirt freshman guard. Bond described his first game saying “I was really nervous coming… just hoping to score.” Bond did a lot more than just score, he showed us that he is a fantastic tool off the bench. Bond was one rebound shy of a double-double, posting nine boards, 12 points, and two steals. He also showed off his athleticism with a fantastic putback and great defensive movement.
Dante Harris seems to be another great tool off the bench for Tony Bennet. Harris is a transfer from Georgetown with some game experience. He is a small guard with a lot of possible upside, his handle and shiftiness offer great attributes. Some more game reps will help him a great deal, if he can move the ball a half second faster and dial in the midrange, Harris could be a dirty seventh man.
Virginia’s first game was not without hiccups along the way. Andrew Rhode and Ryan Dunn ran into foul trouble early and were therefore limited in their minutes. Dunn is a returner with a lot to offer inside the paint and can shoot from outside and is a natural leader on this young team. Rhode is a rangy wing transfer from St. Thomas who with more minutes should have a much greater impact on the floor. Jordan Minor another young guy brings some much-needed size to the generally sized wahoos. Minor was a little sloppy in the paint not rebounding to the best of his ability and could have moved the ball a little more cleanly. The Cavaliers also missed 15 free throws to which Tarleton coach Billy Gillispie joked they didn’t foul the Cavs enough.
Virginia put up a good opening performance overall. Head coach Tony Bennet noted that the team “played real hard,” something very important to his defensive-minded strategy. Just 19 points for Tarleton State in the first half was a quintessential Virginia defensive performance and a great starting point for the season. If Virginia can clean up their work at the charity stripe and keep their off-ball movement fluid through the whole game they will be in great form to start their season.
Virginia will travel to Charlotte to take on the Florida Gators on Friday night. Florida is a decent team from the rapidly improving SEC. Virginia will need to continue their solid team play and improve their free throws to be in their best form to take on Florida.