No. 16 men’s basketball defeats Navy 65-56

The Cavaliers recorded their 10th win against the Midshipmen Sunday after a contested second half performance

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Senior guard Braxton Key led Virginia with 15 points and added seven rebounds and three steals.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

No. 16 Virginia took down Navy Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena, winning 65-56 after temporarily giving up the lead in the second half. The Cavaliers (10-2, 2-0 ACC) shot 53.2 percent from the field while the Midshipmen (6-5, 0-0 Patriot) only converted 38.8 percent of their field goals. Senior guard Braxton Key, senior forward Mamadi Diakite, sophomore guard Kihei Clark and freshman guard Casey Morsell scored in double-figures in the matchup. Clark recorded a career-high 13 assists en route to a double-double. 

The Cavaliers’ aggressive defense smothered Navy early as Virginia went on a 12-4 run in the opening five minutes of play. The Cavaliers were five-for-six from the field with just over 15 minutes to go in the first half, showing greater discipline in shooting compared to previous games this season. 

Virginia went up 19-13 with under 12 minutes remaining and continued to stay hot on offense. Morsell, Key and junior forward Jay Huff jumped on the board as the Midshipmen struggled to fight back. Nevertheless, Navy junior guard Cam Davis and senior center Evan Wieck helped the Midshipmen keep the game close. 

As the game progressed, Key excited the crowd with a one-handed slam-dunk, flying through the air to put back Clark’s rebound. Key led the half with 10 points, but the Midshipmen were never far behind and continued to score as Virginia’s shooting equally remained on its mark. 

With just over four minutes to go, Navy went on a 6-0 run and closed the gap to 28-24 as Davis sunk a shot from behind the arc. Key subsequently responded with two buckets to jumpstart a 6-0 run for the Cavaliers. As the clock counted down, Huff sunk a three-pointer to extend the lead to 11 points. However, junior forward Luke Loehr countered with a three in the final seconds to leave the score at 37-29 heading into halftime. 

“I thought we got off to a good start, and defensively, it was a bit spotty,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “At times we were a little slow to the shooters, and there were some breakdowns there, but [Navy] hit a pretty tough three to end the half.”

Coming into the second half, however, Virginia’s offense fell silent, converting just one attempt in the first ten minutes. 

Wieck opened the second half in a solo effort, going on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to two points for the Midshipmen. Diakite finally broke up the scoring with a three to give Virginia a 40-35 lead with just over 15 minutes to play.

Turning the ball over repeatedly and allowing Navy to keep the game close, Virginia entered a dry spell on the scoring end and missed its next six baskets. Meanwhile, Davis sunk his third three-pointer, and sophomore guard John Carter Jr. followed with another triple to give the Midshipmen their first lead since the start of the game. 

As the game entered its final 10 minutes, the Cavaliers developed a greater sense of urgency and scored 12 straight points behind a strong defensive effort. Breakaway plays shifted the game’s momentum and pushed the pace as Virginia ignited on offense. Clark and Key fueled the 12-0 run, sinking quick shots to give the Cavaliers a 52-41 advantage with 6:31 on the clock. 

“... We got some buckets in transition,” Bennett said. “We needed those because our man-to-man offense was pretty solid, but once they went to that zone we were having a hard time — even with some good looks — making them. Some key stops, blocks and I think the transition points that came from that run helped us.”

While Virginia caught fire on offense, Navy refused to let the Cavaliers run away with the lead. Loehr and Wieck closed the gap to 54-49 with 4:00 minutes remaining, but Virginia continued to hold strong, finishing the game with a final score of 65-56. 

“I think we’re getting shots, we just need to make them and keep taking open shots,” Clark said after the game. “I think it’s partly taking care of the ball because we don’t even get a shot up sometimes. We just need to take care of the ball and keep taking open shots.”

The Cavaliers return to ACC action and host in-state rival Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday at 2 p.m.

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