Home Notebook: Virginia coach Tony Bennett on FSU win, Isaac McKneely, team growth
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Notebook: Virginia coach Tony Bennett on FSU win, Isaac McKneely, team growth

Chris Graham
tony bennett uva
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Virginia, in its win over Miami on Monday, held the Hurricanes, averaging 80.8 points per game coming in, to a paltry 38.

It was the Virginia offense that won the game at Florida State on Saturday night.

“Our defense had stretches where it was solid, but it wasn’t sharp enough,” coach Tony Bennett said after the 80-76 UVA win, the team’s eighth straight. “We fouled a lot, they got to the paint, and that was at the end, you put your head down and drive, and we didn’t have much resistance, and we had some breakdowns defensively that we’re gonna have to clean up.”

FSU shot 51.1 percent and scored its 76 points on just 59 possessions, averaging 1.288 points per possession, a season-high for a UVA opponent.

But it was Virginia’s slightly more efficient offense – 50 percent from the floor, 10-of-18 from three, getting a career-high 29 points from sophomore guard Isaac McKneely and 21 points from Reece Beekman – that won the day.

Jake Groves also scored in double figures, putting up 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 2-of-2 from three.

Groves has scored in double figures in each of his last four games, averaging 14.3 points per game on 22-of-36 shooting overall (61.1 percent) and a torrid 13-of-18 (72.2 percent) from three.

Bennett schemed the offense around what FSU does on defense.

“You get the one-on-the-five switches, they’re overplaying on the wings, the court’s a little bit open, so you have to punch it off the dribble and go,” Bennett said.

Beekman was at his best creating shots last night, for himself and his teammates.

Beekman was 6-of-9 on shots at the rim on the night and had five assists – Virginia, as a team, had 18 assists on its 26 made baskets.

“It’s a game that forces you to make plays off the dribble, and sometimes you can get movement and slips and different actions that you use, but at some point in the game, it’s going to be, it’s going to have to be some playmaking off the dribble,” Bennett said.

Career night for iMac

McKneely was a torrid 5-of-7 from three – he’s now leading the nation in three-point percentage, at 48.0 percent – and 8-of-12 from the floor overall.

McKneely also was 2-of-4 on midrange jumpers – in his last three games, he’s now 10-of-20 in the midrange, a cool 50 percent.

“He’s getting more assertive and looking for his shot, has deep range, but I liked that he put it on the deck a little more, which you have to,” Bennett said. “He’s having a heck of a year, and he’s, you know, he’s a good one. And I thought that was, tonight, he’s had a few coming out parties, but tonight he was really good in terms of showing what he could do in big-time spots.”

Uncommon number of whistles

To Bennett’s earlier point about fouling a lot, FSU went 26-of-33 at the free-throw line.

This was the result of Virginia getting whistled for 23 fouls, nearly 10 above its season average of 13.4 coming into the game.

This despite Florida State only getting 10 shots at the rim – 37 of the Seminoles’ field-goal attempts were jumpers.

Virginia got to the line for 24 free-throw attempts; UVA had 23 shots at the rim and 29 jumpers.

I point this out because, free-throw attempts are usually a function of who is attacking the rim more.

Wasn’t the case last night.

Credit to Tony, he’s not the one complaining here; I am.

Couple of odd numbers

FSU was just 2-of-16 (12.5 percent) from three, and was 13-of-21 (61.9 percent) on two-point jumpers.

That latter number is way, way out of character for the ‘Noles, who are shooting 38.6 percent on two-point jumpers on the season.

The former number, the 2-of-16 from three, closes out a good week for three-point defense for the ‘Hoos.

Miami had shot 2-of-20 from three in its 60-38 loss at UVA on Monday.

Eight straight

Raise your hand if you had Virginia at 10-3 in the ACC back after that 66-47 loss at Wake Forest a month ago.

Put it back down.

You’re not fooling anybody.

“I just think it’s us growing up and finding ways, and settling a little more on a rotation, guys improving their game,” Bennett said, humility, remember, being the first of the five pillars.

“Again, tonight was, and I’ll watch the film, I felt like we’ve really been coming defensively, and tonight, that didn’t feel as good. Credit to Florida State, the way they can make some plays and attack it. But you know, lively crowd, we’ve played in some pretty aggressive or loud arenas, and Saturday’s usually the circled game. So being in that setting is important, you know, but every game now, we’re playing to, you know, just be in the hunt, and keep qualifying for the good stuff, and I think it’s, we have matured, but still got a ways to go.”

In response to another question in the presser, Bennett added:

“The thing about college sports, but college basketball, I don’t want to say start over, but every game, every practice, you begin again, that’s where you start,” Bennett said. “You can’t ever guarantee, Oh, we’re going to have it, we played terrific defense against Miami, OK, that defense is going to show up. Well, it didn’t show up the way it did against Miami. And thankfully, guys showed up in our offense, so you just never, you just re-establish, you don’t get too high after a win or too down after a loss, you just keep, as we say, you just keep chipping away, and growing. And you know, you can learn in defeat, but it’s nice to learn in victory, too.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].