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Virginia men’s basketball impresses in a must-win game against Miami

The Cavaliers used the help of an outstanding three-point shooting night by their standards to overwhelm the Hurricanes

<p>Junior guard Armaan Franklin scored a game-high 22 points, his most in a Virginia uniform.</p>

Junior guard Armaan Franklin scored a game-high 22 points, his most in a Virginia uniform.

Although the series history between Miami and Virginia in men’s basketball has been relatively even, the Cavaliers (14-9, 8-5 ACC) continued their dominance with a 71-58 win, their fifth straight over the Hurricanes (16-7, 8-4 ACC). Virginia used exceptionally strong shooting — both from the field and from three — to blow past the Hurricanes, who simply could not stop the home team. 

Junior guard Armaan Franklin had his best game in a Virginia uniform, scoring 22 points and adding four assists. For Miami, senior Kameron McGusty led the Hurricanes with 21 points, but his performance could not steal the game from Virginia. 

After Miami won the tip-off, the two opponents traded buckets for the first few minutes of the game before a Kihei Clark three gave Virginia its first lead at 7-6. The Hurricanes would soon answer back, however, and held a three-point advantage with 14:38 remaining in the first half. The fans at John Paul Jones Arena were the star of the start of the match, however, with the building as loud as its been all season. Coach Tony Bennett joked about what may have sparked the crowd in his postgame press conference.

“I think when you’re hydrated and nourished you can go a little harder,” Bennett said. “The crowd was a good, was a very good lift.”

After the timeout, Franklin proceeded to go on a personal 7-0 run to put the Cavaliers back in front. Virginia had some struggles early on — particularly with turnovers — but the team’s outside shooting was an extremely encouraging sign. On the other end of the court, Miami was scoring nearly all of its points in the paint, starting ice cold from beyond the three point arc. Both teams were doing the opposite of what they were known for this season, and it resulted in a 19-14 lead for Virginia with 8:28 to play.

Throughout the end of the first half, Virginia was able to rely on a combination of shot-making and timely defense to keep the Hurricanes at bay, never leading by less than four. At one point, Miami did not score a point for nearly five minutes, and on the other end of the court, Franklin’s 15 points in the half — including a three to beat the buzzer — gave the Cavaliers a 35-26 lead at the intermission. Overall, it was one of the best halves Virginia played all season, with the team’s ability to shoot threes changing the entire complexion of the offense.

The second half started in a similar manner to the first, with the teams trading buckets but no real momentum being created for either side. Virginia continued its hot shooting from the outside with a three from sophomore guard Reece Beekman, who shoots at just a 34.9 percent clip this season. After a slow start, however, the Cavaliers kept pulling away, and Miami was forced to take a timeout after a Gardner bucket that gave Virginia a 48-34 lead with 14:09 to play, its largest of the game up to that point.

Miami would finally seem to find its footing on offense, starting 6-9 from the floor in the second half, but some of the best offense the Cavaliers have played all season — they started 8-13 in the same timespan — allowed the home team to maintain a double digit lead throughout the second period. With 10:04 to go, sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick threw down one of his trademark dunks to give Virginia a 57-40 lead, causing the crowd to erupt once again in perhaps the team’s most exciting game of the season.

After Miami was able to cut the deficit to 13 points with about eight minutes left in the game, Virginia went on another run, punctuated by both a massive dunk from junior center Francisco Caffaro and a timeout by Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga with 5:40 remaining and the score 63-44. Although Miami shot 54 percent from the field for the game, they simply could not keep up with the Cavaliers and would never truly threaten again. Virginia was then able to stretch its lead to as large as 21 before emptying its bench and coast to the final buzzer, winning 71-58.

Saturday evening showed the optimal Virginia performance for the 2021-22 season. Many felt like three-point shooting was the missing link for the Cavaliers, but if the team could hit like they did against Miami, they would be extremely difficult to beat. In front of the best home crowd the team has seen all year, Virginia finally put it all together, proving that on its best day, it can play with anyone in the ACC. As always, Bennett’s teams play best late in the season, and this year seems to be no exception.

“I think we’ve slowly been improving,” Bennett said. “The experience of more games and guys playing together I think has helped.”

Virginia faces a quick turnaround after Saturday night’s game, traveling to Durham to take on Duke Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN.

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