newstony bennett got what he wanted from his teams stay in the 2022 nit better

Tony Bennett got what he wanted from his team’s stay in the 2022 NIT: better

armaan franklin
Armaan Franklin was 12-of-23 from three in the 2022 NIT. Photo by Dan Grogan.

Armaan Franklin, hovering in the mid-20s from three all season, found his stroke, with a minor mechanical adjustment, and was 12-of-23 from behind the arc in the 2022 NIT, including 5-of-11 Tuesday night.

And Franklin and Jayden Gardner, who had 14 points Tuesday night, got postseason experience.

“Really only Kihei, and he didn’t have a strong game today, you know, only Kihei had played in multiple postseason games. You know, Reece did last year, one in the ACC Tournament, then we got shut down, and then one in the NCAA Tournament after being in quarantine for a week. So, that was important for our guys to be in these kinds of settings. That was valuable. So, some guys got some experience. Armaan and Jayden had not played on teams that had been to the NIT or NCAA, so from that standpoint, it was good,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after the Cavaliers bowed out of the NIT with a 52-51 loss to St. Bonaventure.

The season started with a 66-58 loss to Navy. Two weeks later, Virginia beat Providence, which went on to win the Big East regular-season title and will play in the Sweet Sixteen this week, by 18.

Then came a loss at JMU, which finished under .500 in CAA play.

“We were that team that went into Duke and played really well and tough, and beat Providence and Miami and played some quality basketball. And we were also that team that, you know, struggled at times early in the season, had trouble against North Carolina. We were both of those, and you know, we had to fight to be the better one,” Bennett said.

“There’s those times when you had to dust yourself off, get up and just figure out a way,” Bennett said. “We struggled to shoot this year, and we still found ways to squeak them out. I mean, most of our games were squeakers, that’s what they were, the ones we won. And you know, and I think they improved from start to finish, and they became tougher.”

The end of the road for this team brought with it opportunity for introspection.

“I mean, the positive, as I said, they improved, some guys found themselves, some guys learned some valuable things. It’s a positive,” Bennett said. “And some of the hard things that they’ve got to look in the mirror and say, Hey, I’ve got to go to work in the weight room, I’ve got to improve my shot, I’ve got to, you know, take those, that’s so important. And again, to be in these pressure cooker situations, and the hard-fought ones, but I just loved how resilient they were. I said it on my coaches radio show, they always, they rejoiced when one guy did well, they’re always so happy for each other, they’re character young men. And I’ll never forget, and I say all the time, and you know, you have to have young men you can you can lose with, and staff, and they were that.

“There’s a lot of expectations and pressure on these young men, whether they put it on themselves, whether it’s from the outside,” Bennett said. “Where this program has been the last eight years, it’s been at a level that is second to none. And so, when you come in, and maybe you don’t have quite that kind of talent, or that kind of experience, and you’re trying to grow, that’s a lot to live up to when they’re trying to do that.”

Now, the focus turns to next season. Bennett figures to have Gardner and Franklin, his two leading scorers, back, along with Beekman and centers Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro, plus what is currently ranked the nation’s ninth-best recruiting class, with the potential for that to go up a few notches, pending the upcoming decision of four-star point guard London Johnson.

“I hope there’ll be more competition next year for playing time, which is healthy,” Bennett said, before throwing caution with respect to the incoming talent. “I want to be real with the new guys coming in. Everybody’s all excited about this new class. They’ll have their work to do. It’s hard coming in as a first-year, and you’ve got to have patience, and you know, if they’re good enough, they’ll play, if they’re not ready, they’ll improve, and they’ll get ready at some point, just like the guys in this program. But certainly those guys that come back that played a lot, they should be better, the guys that didn’t play that much this year, eye-opening experience, and I expect hopefully some good continuity.”

Story by Chris Graham



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