Virginia men’s basketball won its first game of the season, defeating Radford 73-52. The Cavaliers (1-1) used a well-rounded offense and a stout defense to defeat the Highlanders (1-1), looking like a completely different team from the one that took the same floor Tuesday night against Navy.
After a 3-2 start from the three-point line for Radford, Virginia fell behind 8-5 at the first media timeout. The play on defense was encouraging, however, as the Cavaliers forced their first shot clock violation of the season behind sophomore guard Reece Beekman’s tenacious defense. The Virginia student section, finally back in full force after a hiatus last season, roared as the Cavaliers finally got back to their staple sequence.
On the offensive end, Virginia seemed to find its stride as well, with junior guard Armaan Franklin in particular having a fantastic second start — especially after a poor shooting performance against Navy. The Indiana transfer hit his first two threes of the game, finishing with 13 points at halftime to lead the team. Senior transfer forward Jayden Gardner also had a strong showing in the first period, bullying his way near the basket to the tune of 11 points and five rebounds.
The real story, however, was the massive improvement from the first game to second on the defensive end. After a quick start for the Highlanders, Radford would score just 11 points in the final 14:06 of the first half as the Cavaliers went into the locker room at the half with a 41-21 lead. Their energy was much better, forcing 15 Highlander turnovers and generally being everywhere in terms of deflections. There was rarely an easy shot in the first half and the scoreboard reflected that sentiment.
The two teams traded buckets to start the second half, but Virginia never truly felt any pressure from Radford in the final 20 minutes. There was a scary moment, however, as Gardner went for an alley-oop but landed awkwardly at the beginning of the half. He was okay, but injuries can always be scary, especially in a game which is already practically decided.
The Cavaliers enjoyed a second half with plenty of distance from their opponent, as Radford never got closer than a 19-point deficit. Virginia’s bench had the opportunity to show its promise, too, especially in the form of sophomore guard Carson McCorkle. Although he did not have the best shooting night statistically, the guard from North Carolina showed his ability from beyond the arc, scoring the last bucket for the Cavaliers for them to finish with a 73-52 victory.
There were a few things to work on still for Virginia, as the Cavaliers committed 10 turnovers of their own and gave up 11 offensive rebounds to Radford. Those second chance points and points off turnovers combined for nearly half of the Highlanders’ scoring, so while Virginia had a very solid defensive night overall, there were definitely areas for improvement from Coach Tony Bennett’s point of view.
Virginia enjoyed a solid shooting night, hitting 47 percent of its three-pointers — a welcome sight given its offensive struggles in its first outing. Franklin, tabbed as Virginia’s sharpshooter coming into the season, showed off his skills during his time on the floor, scoring a team-high 21 points and making five of his eight from beyond the arc.
Especially when Radford tried to take a page out of Navy’s book and go into a zone on defense, the ability to make defenders pay from outside the arc made all the difference in the world. Franklin hit two threes in the second half that simply weren’t going down on Tuesday, hopefully giving him the confidence needed to be the killer from three that Virginia needs him to be.
“Every shot he took tonight looked good, looked like it was going in,” McCorckle said. “That’s the Armaan [Franklin] we know.”
Outside of Franklin, almost everyone that took the court had a positive contribution for the Cavaliers. Beekman was outstanding defensively, causing a massive headache for any Radford player he guarded. Gardner was everything Virginia hoped he would be, using his unique size and skill set to take advantage on the inside. And sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick shot perfectly from the free throw line and recorded four blocks, showing off his potential and helping to produce another classic victory for a Tony Bennett-coached team.
Bennett encapsulated the switch from the first game to the second of his team in his postgame press conference.
“They answered the challenge that we put before them, so that was a good step,” Bennett said.
Overall, it was just about the best bounceback performance Bennett and the Cavaliers could have asked for. The offense that was missing in the first game showed up in droves on Friday night, and the defense Bennett mentioned in the second half of the Navy game was present for the entire victory against the Highlanders, resulting in an exciting showing of what can come.
Virginia hopes to build off this victory as it goes into by far its toughest test of the season, traveling to No. 15 Houston on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Tipoff is set for 8:00 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.