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Virginia basketball sputters late in a 63-55 loss to Wake Forest

Despite a strong outing from junior guard Armaan Franklin, the Cavaliers struggled to score when it mattered most and failed to capitalize on many offensive chances.

<p>Virginia sophomore guard Reece Beekman logged another solid game defensively with five steals.</p>

Virginia sophomore guard Reece Beekman logged another solid game defensively with five steals.

On the heels of a crucial victory against Virginia Tech, Virginia men’s basketball remained in Charlottesville with hopes of gaining momentum in ACC play against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (14-4, 4-3 ACC) — who have enjoyed a successful year under second-year Coach Steve Forbes — fell victim to a bout of Cavalier (10-7, 4-3 ACC) three-pointers yet ran away with a lead late in the second half. Despite the loss, junior guard Armaan Franklin shouldered the offensive burden with 18 points and showcased a shooting prowess that Virginia fans have not often seen this year.

A slow, defensive game ensued between the two teams in the first half as junior center Francisco Caffaro set the tone with a quick layup off of a pretty feed from senior guard Kihei Clark. Caffaro — who surprised many in his 16-point effort against Virginia Tech — started for the first time this season over sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick. Even with plenty of opportunities, the Virginia frontcourt could not convert early baskets under the rim, as Caffaro and senior forward Jayden Gardner missed three consecutive layups early in the first half.

With the Cavaliers trailing 11-10, Franklin and senior guard Kody Stattman cashed in four  three-pointers to give Virginia a 22-13 advantage and a much-needed spark on the offensive end. A strong run from the Demon Deacons — spearheaded by physical drives from leading scorer and senior guard Alondes Williams — narrowed the gap considerably and shifted the momentum back in their favor.

With the Cavaliers leading 29-27 heading into the second half, neither team managed to establish a sizable advantage for the first couple minutes of play. Franklin poured in six points to give Virginia a four point lead, while Stattman built upon his impressive first half by scoring two consecutive baskets en route to a 47-40 scoreline. Seemingly in control, Virginia benefited from the stellar shooting of its two unusual scorers in a game which featured struggles in the frontcourt.

At the 8:13 minute mark, things began to unravel for the Cavaliers. Wake Forest turned a three-pointer into a 13-point run in the span of four minutes, with Virginia failing to convert any of its field goal attempts as the clock ticked away. Despite trimming the lead to as little as four, Virginia could not climb out of the massive hole which emerged from another scoring drought. A seven-point lead vanished in the blink of an eye as the Cavaliers fell 63-55 in another critical ACC matchup. 

“I think offensively we're always trying to look for a good shot and especially when we’re not scoring we're trying to look for an easy shot, create easy looks,” Coach Tony Bennett said about his team’s scoring woes. “I think that sometimes [Wake Forest] did a good job taking those away and making us force up shots late in the shot clock, but for the most part we're looking for smart shots.” 

Even when Stattman and Franklin couldn’t seem to miss, Virginia once again faltered due to offensive stagnancy for several important minutes. Gardner — who has typically been a force to be reckoned with on the glass — could not make the most of his chances down low and only converted three of his fourteen field goal attempts. Second-chance points doomed the Cavaliers when the shooters cooled off. However, sophomore guard Reece Beekman displayed his knack for havoc on defense in a solid outing against the ACC’s leading scorer in Williams. Beekman — the ACC’s leader in steals — also contributed seven assists to accompany his five takeaways. 

Virginia needs to find scorers somehow in order to avoid these devastating droughts that have often led to defeat. The question is, who will it be? Will Caffaro and Gardner show some more consistency on offense? Will Clark have to carry more of the load due to some three-point shooting concerns from the rest of the team? 

In a rematch, the Cavaliers will hit the road to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-10, 2-4 ACC) Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network.