Following a shocking loss to San Francisco Nov. 27, Virginia men’s basketball found its footing last Tuesday as the team secured an impressive win against Saint Francis. The Cavaliers (3-1, 0-0 ACC) notched their second straight victory Friday night against Kent State (1-1, 0-0 MAC) by a score of 71-64 to keep the momentum going.
“They played very hard,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “They went at us. They were quick and they were strong, and they exploited some things at times. They hit a couple of tough or fortunate shots that, you know, were kind of back breakers and could have been the difference. But we stayed the course and came up with enough tough shots. We've just got to keep working and keep improving and chipping away.”
The matchup was the second of a three-game home stretch for Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena. Although the Cavaliers were originally scheduled to play four straight games at home, their Dec. 12 game against William & Mary in Charlottesville has been postponed.
As he has discussed in recent post-game press conferences, Bennett continued to shuffle his lineup against the Golden Flashes in hopes of finding the most efficient rotation. Friday’s game saw freshman guard Reece Beekman make his second start in a row alongside senior guard Tomas Woldetensae, sophomore forward Justin McKoy and senior forwards Sam Hauser and Jay Huff.
Virginia appeared to get off to a sluggish start against Kent State, falling behind 7-2 in the early going. However, it did not take the Cavaliers’ offense long to get into rhythm as five quick points from Hauser along with junior guard Kihei Clark’s first three-pointer of the year gave Virginia a 10-9 lead.
Woldetensae then sank a three-pointer of his own and Huff finished an alley-oop in style on the following possession to put the Cavaliers ahead 15-9. Although it appeared that Virginia was in a position to pull away, the Golden Flashes stayed in the mix by scoring the next five points.
As the Cavaliers nursed a 22-18 lead with the first half winding down, Virginia had not scored in nearly four minutes. Woldetensae broke the scoring drought with a layup with just 3:10 to go before halftime.
The closing minutes of the first frame saw the Cavaliers and the Golden Flashes go bucket for bucket. Senior forward Justyn Hamilton — who led Kent State with eight points in the opening half — scored a layup to trim the Virginia lead to 26-22 with under a minute to go. Huff responded for the Cavaliers by knocking down a three-pointer to extend Virginia’s halftime lead to 29-22. At that point, Huff and Hauser were leading the Cavaliers with seven points apiece.
The second half was a much different story as the Golden Flashes came out of the locker room, firing on all cylinders. Led by the trio of Hamilton, senior guard Mike Nuga and senior forward Danny Pippen, Kent State closed in on Virginia, cutting the Cavaliers’ lead to two points just six minutes into the second half.
Just over a minute later, the Golden Flashes would take the lead 38-37 following a driving hookshot by Pippen. In spite of this, junior guard Trey Murphy managed to tie things back up at 38-38 following a free throw.
From that point on, the game saw eight lead changes all the way down to just 3:42 remaining in regulation. With the Cavaliers trailing 56-52, Clark stepped up in a big way. As the back-and-forth dynamic of the game continued, Clark’s four points — all in less than two minutes — brought Virginia within one point of the Golden Flashes, 57-56.
“I saw that we were close to the bonus and close to the double bonus as well,” Clark said. “I was just trying to be aggressive. I knew I could get by my man and just draw fouls. I thought that the free-throw line would be the easiest way to get quick easy points and then it also allows us to set our defense on the other end as well.”
A pair of free throws from Huff would put the Cavaliers back in the lead momentarily before a floating two-point jump shot by Pippen brought the score back to 59-58 in favor of Kent State. However, Virginia remained poised with 1:20 remaining and Clark made his way back to the foul line where he made both free attempts.
As the Golden Flashes made their way back down the floor — now trailing 60-59 — Huff blocked a layup from junior guard Malique Jacobs. Kent State went on to intentionally foul Huff, who made both of his free throw attempts to build the Virginia lead back to 62-59.
Down to just 38 seconds remaining in regulation, Pippen rattled off two three-point shots for the Golden Flashes but missed both attempts. With 5.2 seconds left, the ball went out of bounds off of the leg of Beekman, granting Kent State one last chance to tie the game. The third time proved to be the charm for Pippen who drained a three-pointer and sent the game to overtime.
“When a guy hits a shot like that, it can be deflating but that's an area of improvement for us,” Hauser said. “That's an area where we need to finish the game right there and seal the win. I was happy with our fight in overtime, but overall we got to get a lot tougher and a lot stronger on the boards.”
In overtime, Hauser took over the game for Virginia, scoring the first bucket of the extra period with 3:14 to go. As the Cavaliers clung to a 64-62 lead, neither team appeared to be able to score as Virginia suffocated the Golden Flashes’ offense.
Hauser ended the scoreless run by drilling a three-pointer to extend the lead to 67-62 with 42 seconds left. The shot sealed the deal for the Cavaliers as Kent State was forced to resort to fouling Virginia and crossing its fingers for missed free throws.
The Cavaliers held their own at the line and went on to win 71-64, marking Virginia’s first victory over Kent State since 1974, when the Cavaliers won 58-40.
The Cavaliers will next face Michigan State in their third-straight home game Wednesday.. The matchup will be a family affair as Hauser’s brother — Michigan State junior forward Joey Hauser — recently transferred to the Saprtans and has been playing for the team this season.
“[It’s] a really exciting time for our family and obviously U.Va. has a history with Michigan State, too,” Hauser said. “But we have a lot to learn and get better in these next few days before that game, so we're just looking forward to focus on ourselves a little bit, but also get ready for a good Michigan State team.”
The Michigan State game will be streamed live on ESPN starting at 9:15 p.m.