ATLANTA – A 25-0 run removed any suspense from Tony Bennett’s pursuit of a Virginia coaching milestone.
The No. 13 Cavaliers blew away Georgia Tech with the spurt, which began in the closing minutes of the first half and carried over after the break to give Virginia a 74-56 victory Saturday.
For Bennett, it was win No. 326 as the Cavaliers’ coach, pushing him into a tie with Terry Holland for the most in school history.
“Just the way he has represented basketball and this program, what he’s built, it’s just tremendous to be able to talk about him,” Bennett said. “I never got into coaching to break records. I just wanted to win because I love the game.”
Bennett improved to 326-119 in 14 years leading the Virginia men’s basketball program. Holland went 326-173 over a 16-season tenure that ended in 1990.
Virginia (10-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored the final nine points of the first half – all on 3-pointers off Georgia Tech turnovers – to take a 36-25 lead into halftime.
It would get worse for the Yellow Jackets (7-6, 0-3) when the teams returned to the court, as the Cavaliers ripped off another 16 points to make it 52-25 before the home team finally made a basket.
“For the most part defensively, we didn’t give them anything easy,” Bennett said. “Then we got a few turnovers and made 3s. When you’re not exchanging baskets, that’s when stuff like that can happen.”
Kihei Clark had 15 points and eight assists to lead Virginia, which kept up its domination of Georgia Tech with a 10th straight victory in the series. Jayden Gardner added 14 points, while Armaan Franklin and Kadin Shedrick added 11 apiece.
Looking to bounce back from an ugly 13-point home loss to Clemson before the 10-day Christmas break, Georgia Tech shook up its lineup by bringing top scorer Miles Kelly off the bench. It did no good.
The Yellow Jackets have lost their first three ACC games by an average margin of nearly 16 points and appear headed for another dismal season. They went 12-20 a year ago.
Kelly scored 20 points but none of his teammates reached double figures. The Yellow Jackets turned it over 23 times, leading to 30 points for the Cavaliers.
“Virginia was knocking down a lot of shots,” Kelly said. “That was really the game. We couldn’t get any stops on the defensive end.”
DRE IN THE HOUSE
Former Virginia star De’Andre Hunter was at McCamish Pavilion to cheer on his alma mater and stopped by the locker room afterward.
Hunter was a key player on the Cavaliers’ national championship team in 2019. He now plays for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, who were off Saturday after losing to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers the night before.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those kind of runs,” Bennett said. “Maybe it was because De’Andre was sitting behind the bench.”
Virginia: The Cavaliers set the tone with their accuracy beyond the arc. Eight of their 13 first-half baskets were 3-pointers, many coming in transition off Virginia’s smothering defense. Bennett’s team looked more like the team that rose to No. 2 in the rankings before consecutive losses to Houston and Miami.
Georgia Tech: Coach Josh Pastner has given little indication in his seven-year tenure that he can transform the Yellow Jackets into a perennial conference contender. Other than a surprising run to the ACC tournament title during the pandemic-marred 2020-21 season, the Yellow Jackets are 36-60 in league play under Pastner.
“This was no fun for anybody,” the coach said. “But there’s a lot of basketball to be played.”
Virginia: Bennett will look to break the tie with Holland when the Cavaliers travel to Pittsburgh for an ACC game Tuesday night.
Georgia Tech: Hosts another ranked ACC team, No. 14 Miami, to wrap up a four-game homestand Wednesday night.