Virginia did not get the chance to play rival Virginia Tech at home last year due to COVID-19 cancellations, so the team made sure to take advantage of the opportunity in a 54-52 win on Wednesday night. The Cavaliers (10-6, 4-2 ACC) fought through in a gritty, classically-Virginia victory. Leading scorer senior forward Jayden Gardner was uncharacteristically quiet, but junior center Francisco Caffaro stepped up with the game of his life, scoring a career-high 16 points to keep the Hokies (8-7, 0-4 ACC) from their first ACC victory.
After the visiting team won the tip, both squads started off slowly on the offensive end, with Virginia Tech struggling to make shots from beyond the arc and Virginia turning the ball over three times in four minutes. In addition, sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick — arguably the Cavaliers’ most important player — picked up two quick fouls, forcing Coach Tony Bennett to go to his bench earlier than normal.
After an ugly first few minutes, however, both teams settled in for a close first half, with the game being tied 9-9 with 13:35 left in the half. Sophomore point guard Reece Beekman — not known for his outside shot — continued his promising shooting streak with a three from the top of the key just over five minutes into the contest.
After the first media timeout, Virginia put on an absolute show on both ends of the court for a few minutes in the middle of the half. Caffaro gave the Cavaliers valuable minutes off the bench in place of Shedrick, and the home team played extremely stout defense, forcing the Hokies into seven turnovers in the first half. The Hokies answered with their own run, however, cutting what once was an eight-point lead to just one with 7:30 left in the half.
Virginia Tech took the lead briefly after coming out of a timeout, but the Hokies did not lead again for the rest of the half, as Virginia kept the game just out of reach. Another shot clock violation for Virginia was a highlight for the Cavaliers’ strong first half defense, and the squad went into the locker room with a hard-fought 25-23 lead. Bennett praised the defense in his postgame press conference.
“We were, again, not perfect, but we were as ready as we could be to guard their stuff, because it is difficult,” Bennett said.
The Hokies started off red-hot from the field in the second half, but Virginia was able to weather the storm behind the play of Beekman and company to hold a 33-30 lead with 15:55 to play. One of the biggest reasons for success for the Cavaliers was their rebounding — Virginia outrebounded Virginia Tech 31-29 over the game, and it seemed as if every time the Hokies made a stop, Virginia ended up with an offensive board.
What started as a highly efficient offensive performance from both teams quickly devolved to what it was in the first half — a tough, bang-inside matchup, particularly between Caffaro and Virginia Tech senior forward Keve Aluma. The defensive attitude of Virginia had certainly taken hold of the game, which would seem to favor the Cavaliers.
The game stayed close throughout the second half, as neither team could pull away. With just 8:19 left in the game, the score was tied once again, this time at 42. During this stretch, Virginia used a big frontcourt with Caffaro and Shedrick playing at the same time, something that seemed to throw the Hokies off and make it harder to score. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers could never completely break the game open, keeping Virginia Tech in the game.
In a game that featured a relative lack of three-point shooting, Virginia Tech’s guards woke up at an opportune time, and two threes along with a midrange jumper put the Hokies up by four, but Virginia cut the lead to 50-48 as the last media timeout came and went. After putting up another basket to go up four, the Hokies allowed Caffaro to single handedly bring the deficit to just one before junior point guard Armaan Franklin put the Cavaliers up 53-52 with a pair of free throws with just 1:33 left.
“Francisco, Papi really played well,” Bennett said in his postgame press conference. “His physicality was significant … and he got to the free throw line when we needed it.”
After a missed shot by the Hokies on the other end, Virginia had a chance to ice the game, but Beekman’s shot was blocked, resulting in a shot clock violation. Cavalier fans held their breath as Aluma — the game's leading scorer — had the ball, but he turned it over, giving Virginia the ball once again. After Clark made one of two free throw shots, the Hokies had two great opportunities to win the game, but the Cavaliers held on for a thrilling 54-52 win.
Virginia will stay in Charlottesville for its second consecutive home game as Wake Forest comes to town. Tip-off is set for 4:30 p.m. Saturday.