Maybe it was a post-Thanksgiving hangover. Or perhaps it was the lack of energy in the building as there was a fairly thin crowd on hand at John Paul Jones Arena on Black Friday. Whatever it was – the outcome was a very sluggish start for the Cavaliers, who led the 1-4 Lehigh Mountain Hawks by just four points at halftime.
Virginia eventually found its groove offensively and put together a massive 22-4 run in the second half to defeat Lehigh 61-43 and give Tony Bennett his 300th career victory as head coach at UVA.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well early on, with both teams shooting 33% from the field in the first half. After Lehigh took an early lead, Virginia went on an 8-0 run, capped off by a nice post move by Francisco Caffaro to regain the lead for good. Caffaro scored six of his eight points in the first half and also recorded five rebounds in the game.
Virginia smothered Lehigh defensively from start to finish, but the Hoos could not score enough in the first half to gain separation and held a 25-21 lead at halftime.
The Cavaliers seemed to recognize that the recipe for success on the offensive end was to not settle for perimeter jump shots and instead worked inside for close-range hook shots and layups. UVA attempted only 10 three-pointers in the game, with most of them coming in the final few minutes when the game was already decided. Virginia scored 38 points in the paint, with Caffaro, Jayden Gardner, and Kadin Shedrick working hard and showing some proficiency at scoring in the post.
Shedrick finished with eight points and three blocks, continuing his impressive development as a shot-blocker this season. Gardner had eight points and eight rebounds as well.
The turning point in the game was a flurry of Lehigh turnovers caused by UVA’s trio of guards. Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin, and Kihei Clark combined for six steals, with four of those steals coming from Beekman, who now has 20 steals on the season.
Many of those steals led to easy layups in transition, as Virginia scored 19 points off of 15 Lehigh turnovers. Beekman finished with 10 points, the first time he has scored in double figures this season.
The steals and points off of turnovers were a pivotal part of UVA’s 22-4 run which allowed the Hoos to take control of the game. Virginia led by as many as 25 points after a pair of threes by Igor Milicic Jr. and Malachi Poindexter. Milicic’s three was his only basket, but it was perhaps the most impressive shot made by any player in the game. At 6’10” and 224 pounds, Milicic was somehow able to operate as the runner on a Kyle Guy-style play, sprinting free off of a screen and draining a catch-and-shoot three-pointer from the left wing. If Milicic can do that consistently, his shooting ability mixed with his size and length could be a lethal combination for Virginia moving forward.
Virginia did not have a single scorer who stood out in Friday’s game, as Kihei Clark led UVA with 11 points and seven assists. Instead, a variety of scorers got the job done for the Cavaliers, as six different players had at least eight points for Virginia.
With over three minutes left in the game, Tony Bennett emptied his bench and Jayden Nixon, Chase Coleman, and manager Chris McGahren checked in to play the remainder of the game. UVA did not score in the final three minutes and Lehigh scored the game’s final seven points as the game ended with a 61-43 Virginia victory.
With the win, Virginia has won four straight games and improves to 5-2 on the season. The Cavaliers stay at home to host Iowa on Monday night as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.