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Virginia men’s basketball trounces Fairleigh Dickinson 82-49 in the Cavaliers’ last non-conference matchup

Senior forward Jayden Gardner tallied a season-high 29 points, while the Virginia bench helped to extend a sizable advantage in the second half.

<p>Senior forward Jayden Gardner led the way for Virginia with 29 points.</p>

Senior forward Jayden Gardner led the way for Virginia with 29 points.

After a stunning loss to James Madison on Dec. 7, Virginia basketball (7-4, 1-0 ACC) rebounded with a dominant win over Fairleigh Dickinson (0-10, 0-0 NEC) at home. The Cavaliers — playing in their last non-conference matchup before the ACC slate — benefited from their depth in a blowout victory against a winless opponent. Taking advantage of the Knights’ struggles this season, Virginia put the potential of players such as sophomore guard Carson McCorkle and freshman forward Igor Miličić on full display.

The Cavaliers raced out to an early 6-0 lead only to concede consecutive three-pointers from Fairleigh Dickinson with 16:31 to play in the first half, evening the score. The Knights remained within striking distance for much of the first half, yet, starting with under six minutes to play in the opening period, Virginia began to establish a comfortable advantage on the heels of a 10-0 run to widen the gap. Senior forward Jayden Gardner — the Cavaliers’ leading scorer this year — notched an impressive 18 points in only the first half of play, leading Virginia to a 34-19 halftime advantage.

Gardner picked up where he left off in the beginning of the second half, scoring the Cavaliers’ first six points up until junior guard Armaan Franklin hit a three-pointer. Franklin’s basket — which stretched the advantage to 44-19 — also ended his streak of 21 consecutive missed three-pointers. With the door essentially closed on a Farleigh Dickinson comeback, Coach Tony Bennett emptied the bench and witnessed some surprising performances. 

McCorkle and Milicic scored nine points apiece — each cashing in three of their four three-point attempts — and sophomore guard Malachi Poindexter chipped in seven. Poindexter — the walk-on from St. Anne’s Belfield in Charlottesville — dished out three assists and converted all three of his field goal attempts in the second half. Thanks to some hot shooting from the bench, the Cavaliers built upon their halftime lead and finished with a 33-point victory at home. 

“I really liked our defensive collectiveness, how we were active on the ball, and got them to the end of the shot clock,” Bennett said. “There weren't uncontested shots. I encouraged them in that regard at halftime and I thought they came out in the second half with that same kind of alertness defensively.”

Showing some signs of defensive promise, Virginia forced three shot-clock violations and constricted Fairleigh Dickinson from the wings. Bennett — the architect behind the Pack-Line defense — is an incredible 106-2 when holding opponents under 50 points in his 13-year tenure in Charlottesville. However, the offense also contributed in a massive way, as the 82 points from Virginia marked a season-high in a year full of some low-scoring bouts.

Gardner once again proved to be the catalyst for the Cavaliers in the frontcourt, converting 14 of his 18 field goal attempts in an uber-efficient outing. Franklin bounced back from a stretch of missed three-pointers and ended the game as a double-digit scorer, hopefully signaling to Cavalier fans that his offensive abilities will carry into some more competitive ACC play. 

Moreover, the aforementioned contributors from the bench provided a spark for a team that desperately needs consistency from behind the arc. If Miličić, McCorkle and freshman guard Taine Murray can provide solid defensive minutes to remain on the court, Virginia may stray from its streaky shooting nights as of late. 

The Cavaliers will be back in action Wednesday in their second ACC matchup — a date against Clemson (8-4, 0-1 ACC) in Charlottesville. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network.