The Virginia Cavaliers traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday to take on the Florida Gators. Both teams got their seasons off on the right foot; entering 1-0, both were looking to continue that trend.
Florida came out of the gate very hot and ready to play, grabbing an early lead. Will Richard and Riley Kugel stepped out to play tonight, and with the support of 7-foot center Micah Handlogten, Florida was poised to rough up Virginia. Their game plan was simple, utilize their big bodies to drive inside and be tenacious on the ball. Florida finished the night with 21 offensive rebounds, the difference maker on offense for them.
Virginia was slow throughout the beginning of the first half but started to find their way when stars Isaac McKneely and Reece Beekman heated up. McKneely continued his shooting from behind the arc, hitting half his attempts. Reece Beekman was his usual poised self, taking quality shots and playing floor general to distribute the ball. Beekman finished the night with 13 points, four steals, five assists, and a block.
The Cavaliers got the biggest boost off the bench on Friday. 6 foot 11-inch freshman forward Blake Buchanan came into the game and made his presence felt immediately. Buchanan was strong on the ball in the paint, he drove well and was rewarded with 18 points. He was able to show the world that he could shoot some pretty shots from mid-range, making him very versatile even against an interior Florida defense of 7 footers. Down the stretch of the second half, Buchanan was able to repeatedly get himself to the line and made some big free throws in the closing minutes to shut down the Gators. Blake Buchanan finished the night with 18 points, 10 of which came from free throws, 7 rebounds, and 1 assist.
Virginia’s Ryan Dunn and Andrew Rhode were able to bounce back from limited performances in the first game. Both guys ran into foul trouble early against Tarleton State and were not on the floor as much as Tony Bennett would have liked. Rhode and Dunn both turned that around on Friday, each logging over 30 minutes on the floor. Ryan Dunn seemed to find his athleticism more than he had on Monday as well, showing it off with a great steal and fast break throwdown. Dunn would end up totaling just six points, but his six steals showed us why he is a starter and leader for the Cavaliers. Andrew Rhode was able to give a better snapshot of his shooting abilities, knocking down some very smooth and agile shots. Rhode had 3 for 6 from the field and ended with 7 points. Both Rhode and Dunn are moving in the positive direction and look for them to continue to up their game as the season progresses.
Tony Bennett opted to only roll 8 deep in the lineup on Friday, as opposed to the 11-man lineup that played on Monday against Tarleton State. In addition to Blake Buchanan Leon Bond III and Dante Harris were the guys who came in off the bench. Leon Bond III had a quieter game compared to his Virginia debut with just two points, but he is still young and feeling his way into the scene. Dante Harris had some nice moments totaling 6 points, six points that all seemed to come from impressive drives to the rim and nice finishes. An eight man set seems to be the likely route moving forward for Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers.
This Virginia team could be considered undersized compared with their opponents, something that Florida exploited all night. Virginia had just nine offensive rebounds while Florida had 21. That is not a winning formula. Far too often the Virginia defense would force a low-quality look for the Gators, but instead of flipping the floor and making them pay, Florida was able to grab the basketball off the board and score anyway. Virginia also struggled again at the charity stripe shooting a mere 58%. Tony Bennett addressed this as an area that he wanted to see improvement in after the game against Tarleton, but the Cavaliers continued their struggle on free throws. If Virginia wants to be competitive they have to improve this area of their game.
Virginia will face North Carolina back home in Charlottesville on Tuesday at 7 pm. While still early in the season Virginia needs to clean up some of their mistakes as they play these non-conference matchups. NC A&T could give the Wahoos a run for their money on Tuesday if they don’t come to play a more complete game.