Virginia guards Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark were both on the bench with four fouls. Wake Forest had worked a 19-point deficit down to one. The home crowd was at a fever pitch.
Tony Bennett and his Cavaliers found a way.
Bennett was able to massage having to go more than three minutes at a key stretch in the second half without either Beekman or Clark, then made a defensive adjustment that shut down Tyree Appleby’s dribble-drives down the stretch, and that’s how #10 Virginia was able to escape Winston-Salem with the improbable 76-67 win on Saturday.
The late-game theatrics seemed to be part of a different game from where things seemed to be going in the first half.
The ‘Hoos (15-3, 7-2 ACC) had a torrid 11-of-12 first-half shooting stretch that ended with them on top, 34-15, after a three at the 5:42 mark from Armaan Franklin, who had 18 points in the opening half.
Wake (14-6, 6-3 ACC), which was 10-0 at home coming in, was able to get back to within 10, at 42-32, at the break, and fought back closer in the second half behind Appleby, who had awful counting numbers – 4-of-16 from the floor, 1-of-8 from three, a modest 13 points and five assists – but was able to single-handedly get Beekman and then Clark into foul trouble with his dribble-drives.
Beekman went to the bench with his fourth foul at the 12:12 mark, with UVA up 54-47, and then Clark picked up his fourth foul with 10:45 left, and the margin still at seven.
Bennett had to navigate the next three minutes-plus without either of his point guards, and Wake took advantage, with a 9-3 run that got the margin to one, at 57-56, on a pair of Appleby free throws with 8:33 to go.
Bennett subbed Beekman and Clark back in at the under-eight timeout, and came up with the defensive adjustment – having forwards Ben Vander Plas and Ryan Dunn hang around in the post to cut off Appleby’s dribble-drives, basically conceding the pass to open shooters and cutters – that turned things around.
Appleby, who came in averaging 18.1 points per game, second in the ACC, and an ACC-best 6.1 assists per game, had two points on 1-of-5 shooting and didn’t record an assist in the final 7:36.
And as much as it had felt inevitable that Wake Forest would take the lead after the big run, that never happened.
Virginia, with Beekman and Clark back on the floor, went on a 6-0 run to go up seven on a Dunn follow dunk with 4:28 left, and controlled things from there.
Things did get a little hairy when Damari Monsanto made back-to-back threes in the final minute to cut the Demon Deacons’ deficit to four, but UVA went 5-of-6 from the line in the final 41 seconds to close things out.
Inside the box score
Franklin finished with a career-high 25 points on 9-of-21 shooting, 5-of-13 from three, and 10 rebounds.
Over his last eight games, Franklin is averaging 16.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, shooting 44.2 percent from the floor and 38.2 percent from three.
Clark had 12 points and four assists in 28 minutes. He had six points, all at the line, and one assist in the closing stretch.
Isaac McKneely had 11 points in 23 minutes off the bench.
Beekman had eight points and seven assists in 25 minutes – consider this: Virginia beat Wake at Wake with Clark and Beekman playing a combined 53 minutes.
Vander Plas, who got the start at the five, had eight points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.
Dunn had five points and eight boards in 30 (!) minutes off the bench in the post.
Kadin Shedrick (three minutes) and Francisco Caffaro (four minutes) got obviously limited minutes against the big Wake lineup, and neither got into the game in the second half.
Monsanto had a career-high 25 points for Wake on 9-of-19 shooting, 7-of-15 from three.
Cameron Hildreth, an unassuming 6’4”, 195-pound guard, bullied his way to 16 points, backing down whichever Virginia guard was on him for post-up buckets and to draw fouls, where he sank 9-of-10 at the line.
Appleby somehow only got to the line four times despite being the reason Virginia was in deep foul trouble in the backcourt.
Virginia was 15-of-34 (44.1 percent) from three, the 15 makes and the 34 attempts both season-highs.
Overall, the Cavaliers were 24-of-60 (40.0 percent) from the floor, and had 19 assists on the 24 made baskets.
Wake shot 39.1 percent (20-of-51) and was 9-of-27 (33.3 percent) from three.
The free-throw numbers evened up a bit at the end with Wake sending Virginia to the line in the final minute.
The Deacs were 18-of-22 at the stripe; Virginia was 13-of-17.
At the rim: Wake was 8-of-14, Virginia was 6-of-13.
Two-point jumpers: Wake Forest was 3-of-10, Virginia was 3-of-13.