Bennett: ‘You can’t compete and play if there isn’t a hardness or an intensity’

tomas woldetensae kent state

Tomas Woldetensae fights his way through the lane. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference (Erin Edgerton/Daily Progress).

Tony Bennett is usually so prompt with postgame media that he almost gets to the podium before the writers and squawkers are ready to begin peppering him with questions.

Not Friday night after his team’s overtime win over Kent State.

Bennett obviously had some teaching to do after the 71-64 win. Roughly 10 minutes or so worth.

“The message after the game was, I said, here’s the line of maximum effort, what you think it is,” Bennett told reporters via Zoom, because that’s how postgames are done, for the moment.

“For the most part, there’s a line above it about being uncomfortable that we have to somehow, as a group, find a way to get to, especially defensively, and all out lay it on the line for each other, scrapping, that, that is necessary.”

It was the second straight uncomfortable Friday for Virginia Basketball, which a week ago gave up 40 points in the second half in a one-point loss to unheralded San Francisco.

This Friday, the Cavaliers gave up 40 in the second half to an unheralded Kent State team, the only difference this Friday being, Virginia scored one more point than it did a week ago, so this one went to OT.

Credit to Kent State for playing way, way above its heads to get things that far.

The Golden Flashes, picked seventh in the MAC in the preseason, lost five guys from coach Rob Senderoff’s rotation from a year ago.

The new guys – including Portland State transfer Mike Nuga and Temple transfer Justyn Hamilton – are still getting their feet wet.

Both carried the Flashes for stretches: Hamilton had eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half to keep Kent State in the game, and then Nuga, wow, Nuga.

At one stretch, he was 4-of-5 from the floor, 3-of-4 from three, in the second half, his last make of the night putting Kent State up 56-52 with 4:14 to go.

A 10-3 Virginia run seemed to have the ‘Hoos on the verge, but a Danny Pippen three at the regulation buzzer gave us the free basketball.

It was in the huddle between the end of regulation and OT where we got a glimpse into Bennett’s thinking of what his best lineup is right now.

He went with Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Tomas Woldetensae, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff – all five minutes.

“I just thought it was the right group. We could have made some subs, I don’t know, but I thought it was the right group,” Bennett said. “They started touching on the stops the efforts, the things that were required, and they were spreading them out and attacking on offense.”

“Both teams looked gassed at the end. You could see it. They missed some shots. We missed some shots. But I just thought it was the right way to go. I don’t always get that right, but we were fortunate. We also had to play and make plays and get some stops. So again, you always say, Where can we grow and what, what can we take and say, That’s some good stuff.”

Kent State shot the lights out in the second half, connecting on 15-of-27 (55.6 percent) from the floor and 7-of-14 (50 percent) from three.

In the OT: 1-of-11.

Virginia, for its part, didn’t look resemble classic Harlem Globetrotters channeling “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

The Cavaliers got an early OT bucket from Sam Hauser, then a three with 42 seconds left to go up five, ahead of the free throws.

They found a way to win.

Bennett wants them to find more.

“Whether it is, or it isn’t, you have to find it,” Bennett said. “You can’t compete and play if there isn’t a hardness or an intensity. Not just at the start – you can’t rely on a crowd – it’s got to be as continuous when you get down. I thought they stayed tough when it looked like they could have maybe yielded, with some good plays, and they ran their offense a little harder, but that is something that every team has to do. That that is something that I think needs to keep moving up.”

Story by Chris Graham


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