Tony Bennett makes the right adjustments, keying Virginia win over rival UNC
North Carolina’s losing streak in Charlottesville climbed to eight games after the Tar Heels, down a couple of starters, lost 65-58 to Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena.
Armando Bacot, Carolina’s leading scorer and rebounder, injured his ankle on the Tar Heels opening possession of the game. Bacot’s foot appeared to roll as he came crashing to the floor on a rebound tap out, just 1:19 into the game. The Virginia native was playing his final game in the Old Dominion.
UNC, already playing without starting forward Pete Nance, who was out with a back injury responded well early, building as much as a nine-point first-half lead. Virginia rallied near the end of the first half a trailed only by two at the break, 29-27.
But like previous games this year where Bacot either played hobbled or was out, things eventually turned bad for UNC.
UNC coach Hubert Davis turned to senior forward Justin McKoy to replace Bacot. McKoy, who transferred from UVA in 2021, was heavily booed every time he stepped on the floor.
McKoy’s night was pedestrian, two points, but did notch six rebounds. But it was first-year player Jalen Washington that provided the spark for Carolina.
Washington, who missed the first nine games of the season recovering from a knee injury he suffered in high school, had not played more than six minutes in any game his season.
At times, Washington was the best player on the floor, scoring 12 points in just 11 first-half minutes.
But credit the UVA defense; in the second half Washington scored just one point, and the UNC inside game was nonexistent.
The story for UVA was a balanced attack. Four UVA players scored in double digits, with Ben Vander Plas and Isaac McKneely leading the way. Vander Plas had 17 points and eight rebounds, including a couple of huge threes.
Mckneely, who at the insistence of coach Tony Bennett played with his parking brake off, added 11 points, canning 3-of-4 from behind the arc.
Trailing by five points early in the second half, the Cavaliers used a 17-2 second half run to rally to a 10-point lead. Armaan Franklin started the rally with a putback dunk, and Vander Plas also added a stick back dunk and a pair of threes, pushing Virginia in front 52-42 with nine minutes left.
UNC closed to within 58-55 with 2:27 left, but McKneely calmly drilled a deep three in front of the UVA bench to push the lead back to six, as the Cavaliers went on to the win.
Tony Bennett made the right adjustments. Going small changed the game for Virginia. For most of the game, Virginia’s offense was sputtering. Missed shots, poor shot selection, and the continuing frustration of missing shots at the rim was the theme for the Cavaliers.
With a small UNC lineup, Virginia countered with a similar attack: Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Mckneely, Vander Plas and Franklin. The Cavaliers attacked the line with relative ease, and before UNC coach Hubert Davis adjusted, Virginia led by seven at 47-40.
Virginia’s offense scored 29 points in the first 24 minutes, then 20 points in the final 5:37.
McKneely just needs to shoot. The first year from West Virginia seems to play better wide open. Mckneely’s monster three off the dribble put an end to a brief UNC rally and pushed the Cavalier lead to six at 61-55 with 2:21 left.
Bennett rides the hot hand. Vander Plas did not leave the game after entering with 18:32 remaining in the game. McKneely, who came in with 15:12 left, played the remainder of the game. Sticking to what was working.