Franklin leads No. 11 Virginia; Bennett becomes wins leader

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Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Tony Bennett spoke with reverence for Terry Holland, gratitude for all the players he’s coached in his career at Virginia and called passing Holland as the winningest coach in Cavaliers history “a we award, not a me award.”

The Cavaliers got Bennett to the milestone on Saturday night, even though they squandered most of a 23-point, second-half lead before hanging on to beat Syracuse 73-66.

Bennett, in his 14th season at Virginia, improved to 327-120 with the Cavaliers, breaking the tie with Holland, who was 326-173 in 16 years. Bennett is 396-153 overall, including three years at Washington State.

Bennett, a three-time national coach of the year and four-time ACC coach of the year, was recognized for the achievement on the court after the game, and his players gave him a Gatorade dousing as he began his postgame remarks in the locker room.

“I’m proud of coach Bennett. He deserves it,” freshman Isaac McKneely said. “He’s one of the best for a reason. I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else for sure.”

Armaan Franklin scored 16 points, Reece Beekman added 13 points and seven assists, and McKneely had 12 points for the Cavaliers (11-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). They led 35-26 at halftime and seemed well on their way to their eighth win in the last nine meetings with the Orange when they scored the first 12 points of the second half to lead 47-26.

The Orange (10-6, 3-2) had won seven of their last eight. They trailed by 23 after the Cavaliers’ run to open the second half, but used a 16-3 spurt to cut the deficit to single digits as Virginia missed 12 of 13 shots and went nearly nine minutes without a field goal.

Joe Girard III scored 19 points and Judah Mintz had 18 for the Orange. Girard had 14 after halftime and Mintz had 12.

“Our offense got us beat today,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, owner of 1,008 victories in 47 years. “You know, as poorly as we played defensively and as well as they shot, they had 35 points at halftime. We just offensively took ourselves right out of the game.”

PARKING BRAKE

Bennett said he told McKneely to “take the parking brake off” and be more aggressive looking for his shots, and McKneely finished 4 for 7 from beyond the arc.

Teammates have also been telling him the same.

“He knows he can shoot the ball. We all know what he can do. It just a matter of him not passing up shots,” Franklin said.

BIG PICTURE

Syracuse: The Orange scored the last eight points of the first half to close a 17-point deficit to 35-26. One of the nation’s top shot-blocking teams, they got three rejections from Mounir Hima in just 4 1/2 minutes of first-half action and finished with seven blocks.

Virginia: Seven of the Cavaliers’ 12 first-half field goals were 3-pointers, with Franklin and McKneely each hitting three, and they made 12 3s in all and only 11 shots from inside the arc. … Jayden Gardner’s first rebound made him the only active player in Division I with 2,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds. … The Cavaliers had 22 assists on 23 field goals, with Kihei Clark leading the way with 11.

UP NEXT

Syracuse is at home against Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.

Virginia is at home against North Carolina on Tuesday night.

No. 13 Virginia beats Georgia Tech, Bennett ties school wins mark

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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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.”

BIG PICTURE

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.”

UP NEXT

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.

Walker, defense lead No. 5 Houston past No. 2 Virginia 69-61

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Blowing a 15-point lead in the second half against No. 4 Alabama a week ago got the attention of No. 5 Houston’s players. Coach Kelvin Sampson made sure of it.

It may have helped the Cougars stymie a comeback by No. 2 Virginia on Saturday.

Jarace Walker scored 17 points and Houston used runs in each half and the nation’s best scoring defense to beat the Cavaliers 69-61. The Cougars scored on three straight possessions after a steal and layup by Kihei Clark brought a sellout crowd clad in orange to its feet, exhorting Virginia to rely on its own defense to finish the comeback.

“I’m not sure we’re able to do that without the Alabama experience,” Sampson said.

After Clark pulled the Cavaliers within 54-48, Jamal Shead scored on a drive, Tramon Mark hit a 3-pointer and Walker made a tough fadeaway, keeping the Cavaliers at bay.

“Just keeping our composure when you get a big lead and just be mature and try not to go away from what we’ve been doing, which we did against Alabama,” J’Wan Roberts said. “We watch film and we learn. We grew from that.”

Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark each added 13 points for the Cougars (11-1), who used a 10-2 run early in the second half to open a 40-30 lead. Virginia (8-1), playing for the first time in 11 days, never got closer than six again, and each time the Cougars answered.

The Cavaliers shot 41.7% (20-48). Coach Tony Bennett said when shots aren’t falling, that makes the quality of play on the defensive end all the more important.

“Today they obviously took advantage of our breakdowns and scored,” Bennett said. “Today the tougher, sounder team on the defensive end won the game.”

Kadin Shedrick scored 16 points and Jayden Gardner had 13 for the Cavaliers, who were hoping to avenge a 67-47 loss last year on the Cougars’ home floor. Houston became the highest-ranked nonconference opponent ever to play Virginia in Charlottesville.

Clark’s steal and layup pulled Virginia within 56-50 with 2:55 to play, but Tramon Mark answered with a 3-pointer for the Cougars, who shot 49% (25-51) against a defense ranked 12th nationally, allowing 57.9 points.

The Cavaliers closed to within 30-28 on Gardner’s basket to open the second half, but the Cougars went on their run, with Walker contributing a three-point play and 3-pointer in the spurt, to lead 40-30.

Virginia scored the first nine points and led 15-7 before going cold. The Cougars outscored them 17-4 over more than 10 minutes to lead 26-19. Houston led 30-26 at halftime.

RARITY

The Cavaliers are the highest-ranked team Houston has faced during the regular season since it met No. 1 Memphis on Feb. 13, 2008.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Cavaliers are likely to fall, but not very far, and Houston’s victory on the road is likely to make voters almost forget their 71-65 loss to Alabama a week ago when the Cougars were No. 1 and the Tide were ranked eighth.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars arrived with one player, Sasser (16.2), scoring in double figures but had five do it against the Cavaliers. Jamal Shead scored 11 and J’Wan Roberts had 10.

Virginia: The Cavaliers got guard Reece Beekman back after he suffered a hamstring injury in their previous game. Beekman was effective defensively but did not demonstrate the explosive power driving to the basket that typifies his offensive game.

“He didn’t quite have his burst. I thought he was pretty good defensively, not quite as explosive offensively and probably a little fatigued because he hasn’t done much,” Bennett said, adding that Beekman hardly has practiced since the injury.

UP NEXT

The Cougars return home to face McNeese on Wednesday night.

The Cavaliers go on the road to face No. 25 Miami on Tuesday night.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

AP Top 25: Virginia climbs to No. 5, UNC and Houston are 1-2

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Virginia had the difficult task of playing two ranked teams while grieving a tragedy that shook the Cavaliers and the rest of their campus.

Playing a week after three football players were shot to death on a bus, Virginia won the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas over No. 16 Illinois after taking down No. 7 Baylor. The wins vaulted the Cavaliers from No. 16 to fifth in The Associated Press Top 25 released Monday.

“It feels great in the moment, but more so now, we know what truly matters,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “When you have a momentary celebration like this, it enables you to enjoy it and it seems to matter, but in the big picture, it doesn’t.”

A slate of marquee games in the second full week of the college basketball season led to tumult in the AP Top 25.

North Carolina remained atop the poll, receiving 47 first-place votes from a 63-person media panel. Houston moved up a spot to No. 2 and had nine first-place votes. No. 3 Kansas had one first-place vote, No. 4 Texas received five and Virginia one.

The Cavaliers (4-0) had the week’s biggest jump, climbing to its highest ranking since reaching No. 4 in 2020-21.

Virginia opted to cancel its game against Northern Iowa last week after Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry were fatally shot after a field trip to Washington.

The Cavaliers wore sweatshirts honoring the victims during warmups before playing Baylor and pulled away in the second half for an 86-79 win. The Cavaliers used another second-half run to beat Illinois 70-61, claiming a therapeutic title to take back with them to Charlottesville.

“Just for the community, I felt like they needed that,” Virginia guard and tournament MVP Reece Beekman said.

SPARTY RISING

Michigan State was unranked in the AP preseason poll in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1996-97 after losing its top three scorers from a year ago.

With a brutal early schedule, the Spartans figured to need some time to gain their footing. Tom Izzo has them moving at an accelerated pace. Michigan State lost by one to Gonzaga on an aircraft carrier, knocked off Kentucky in double overtime and survived a late comeback bid to beat Villanova.

The solid showing in a difficult stretch moved Michigan State into this week’s poll at No. 12.

“It’s everything that we thought it would be,” Michigan State guard A.J. Hoggard said. “This is what we signed up for, this is what we wanted.”

HOT HOUSTON

Houston opened the season at No. 3, its highest preseason ranking since 1983. The Cougars hit another high mark since the Phi Slama Jama era, moving up a spot to No. 2 this week.

Houston opened the season with four straight blowouts and made a statement in its first big test of the season, winning 66-56 at Oregon on Sunday night.

The Cougars are holding teams to 46 points per game and have four players averaging double-figures scoring, led by preseason All-American Marcus Sasser’s 16.8 points per game.

RISING/FALLING

Virginia had the week’s biggest jump within the poll, followed by No. 4 Texas’ seven-spot climb after manhandling Gonzaga.

No. 15 Kentucky and No. 19 UCLA had the biggest drops, losing 11 places. The Wildcats lost to Michigan State and followed a win over South Carolina State with a 16-point loss to Gonzaga. The Bruins lost to Illinois and Baylor in Las Vegas.

IN AND OUT

No. 23 Maryland is ranked for the first time this season after picking up three wins last week, including 88-70 over Miami to win the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

Purdue makes its AP Top 25 debut this season at No. 24 following a 75-70 win over Marquette.

No. 25 Iowa also is ranked for the first time in 2022-23 on the heels of its 16-point win over Seton Hall.