Bennett: ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?’
You’re not going to get Tony Bennett to admit that a 51-50 win was “ugly.”
“Yeah, to me it was beautiful, and I say that because yeah, we were struggling offensively, but to me it’s beautiful when a team finds a way,” Bennett said after Virginia gritted out a 51-50 win over Louisville on Wednesday night in the second round of the ACC Tournament.
The win keeps alive Virginia’s hopes of securing an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, which seemed very much at odds when the Cavaliers lost their season opener at home to Navy, lost on the road at JMU, and started this game 2-of-18 from the field, with a 4 on the scoreboard midway through the first half.
“We’ve been down this road, and again, it’s about getting a victory,” Bennett said. “I don’t apologize for how we play. I want our guys, when they have shots, to take them. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. But you have to – when you know you’re struggling in certain areas, do you have the wherewithal and the identity to say, we’re going to rely on stops and squeeze out a few points here and there, and then try to go win a game, and that’s what happened. I’d take that win over an 85-82 loss.”
Jayden Gardner had a game-high 17 points, but this one was about the guards, Kihei Clark (15 points, 7-of-14 FG) and Reece Beekman (eight points, nine assists).
Clark kept making tough buckets – three layups and two other jumpers in the paint – while Beekman kept creating, for himself and his teammates.
Beekman was the guy that Bennett went to with the game on the line. Virginia, up two, 47-45, got a stop on a miss from three by Jarrod West with a minute to go.
Bennett called timeout and drew up an iso play for Beekman, clearing out the lane to get his point guard one-on-one with Noah Locke.
“Coach Bennett actually drew up that play in the huddle, so it was kind of clear it out, make a play, so that’s what I did,” said Beekman, whose driving layup got the lead to four.
Beekman then got the biggest stop of the night with 28.1 seconds left, with UVA up four, forcing a turnover by Locke, who after a Mike Pegues timeout looked to be interested in putting up a three, but after leaping to squeeze off the jumper, changed his mind, and was called for a traveling violation.
Beekman had just two turnovers on the night, but one came with 20 seconds left. Beekman broke a Louisville press, got the ball into the frontcourt, and tried to get the ball to Gardner.
Louisville big Malik Williams got a hand on the pass and appeared to knock it out of bounds, but after a lengthy replay review, the officials ruled that Gardner got a cuticle on the ball on its way out, giving Louisville the possession.
It took 15 seconds for the Cardinals to miss a three, miss two stickback shots, then get the third to go in, a tough layup by Williams.
Louisville missed seven of its eight shots before that Williams make.
That was Virginia, winning ug … er …
“I would just say it was a hard-fought game,” Beekman said. “We knew playing them for the third time wasn’t going to be easy, so just be ready to play for the whole game. It came down to a couple possessions, a couple stops, and that’s what we got.”
Bennett, after giving it some thought, asked for a chance to rephrase his earlier effort at waxing poetic.
“It’s beautiful when a team finds a way when they’re struggling, and I appreciate that,” Bennett said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time when teams can’t find it. So, you all have your definition of what it looks like, but to me that’s beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?”
Story by Chris Graham