Virginia basketball extended its season Sunday evening, defeating North Texas in an overtime thriller 71-69. The Cavaliers (21-13, 12-8 ACC) survived a long scoring drought to end the second half and two strong pushes from the Mean Green (25-7, 16-2 C-USA) to take the victory back home to Charlottesville.
A 10-0 run in the beginning of the second half may well have been the difference between moving to the quarterfinals of the NIT and having the team’s season end. Junior guard Armaan Franklin and senior forward Jayden Gardner led the team in scoring with 17 points each, while sophomore guard Reece Beekman chipped in with 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
After winning the tip, Virginia got the scoring started with a free throw from junior center Francisco Caffaro. North Texas would quickly answer back, however, getting two straight buckets en route to holding a 4-1 lead at the first media timeout. After a quick foul on Caffaro, the Cavaliers struggled offensively, getting blocked and turning the ball over two times each within the first four minutes.
Virginia finally scored its first field goal off the hands of Beekman with just over six minutes gone, but the Mean Green continued their assault inside, scoring eight of their first 11 points in the paint as North Texas maintained a five-point advantage with 12:00 left.
During the timeout, however, the Cavaliers seemed to regroup, because the next four minutes were the best they played all game. Senior guard Kihei Clark beat the shot clock with a three-pointer, and sophomore center Kadin Shedrick laid the ball in to tie the game at 15, forcing North Texas Coach Grant McCasland to call timeout with 7:47 remaining in the half.
After a long scoring drought for both teams, a Beekman layup finally gave Virginia its first lead since the score was 1-0. A made shot by senior guard Kody Stattmann directly after gave the Cavaliers a 21-17 lead, leading to another timeout by the Mean Green. North Texas responded after the break, scoring its first points in nearly four minutes to tie the game back up. It looked then like Virginia would pull away to end the half, but an and-one opportunity by junior guard Tylor Perry cut the deficit to just two, with the Cavaliers taking a 26-24 lead into halftime.
North Texas would quickly score coming out of the half to tie the game, but it was all Virginia after that during the start of the second period. The Mean Green turned the ball over three times, and Beekman scored seven consecutive points as part of a 10-0 run for the Cavaliers to push the lead to its largest of the game at 36-26 with 17:01 remaining.
After the offensive explosion by Virginia, the teams traded buckets for the next few minutes, with the Cavaliers never leading by less than seven. Virginia’s start to the second half was the complete opposite of the start of the game, with the Cavaliers making seven of their first 11 shots to gain control of the rock fight that was the start of the matchup.
The Mean Green cut the lead to five off of yet another good post move by their big men, but Gardner quieted the “defense” chants of the home crowd by draining a mid-range jumper. Clark made another three-pointer, but North Texas always seemed to have an answer to avoid the game getting too far away. At the under-eight timeout, the deficit was only seven points for the Mean Green, but Virginia was going to the line for foul shots as well.
North Texas cut the lead to 52-49 off of two three pointers, but Franklin answered with a three of his own to push the advantage back to six. What was predicted to be a defensive slog turned into exactly that, with Virginia staying strong with a 55-49 lead with 3:38 remaining.
After a quick two from the Mean Green, Virginia made two crucial mistakes to get North Texas back into the game. First, Gardner was called for an offensive foul, and then Shedrick fouled Perry on a three for the rare four-point play. All of the sudden, with 2:33 left, the game was tied at 55. After the Perry bucket, however, neither team could get any semblance of a good possession. The Cavaliers had a chance to win with just over 30 seconds left but turned the ball over with a shot clock violation. A final heave from North Texas was nowhere close, and the game went to overtime with the score 55-55. The Cavaliers did not score for the final 5:42 of regulation.
The teams started off overtime trading three-pointers, but the story of the extra period had to be Franklin. Having been in a slump the past couple games, making the first three shots — all from beyond the arc — for Virginia may have gotten him back on track. Counting the end of regulation as well, Franklin scored 17 straight points for the Cavaliers. The Mean Green could not answer, and faced a 64-58 deficit with 2:46 to go — although the team already proved it could come back from that deficit earlier in the game.
A disastrous possession then ensued, with Caffaro not only fouling a North Texas player but also picking up a technical, which caused him to foul out. Now, both Shedrick and Caffaro were watching from the bench as the Mean Green cut the deficit back to just three. Virginia would then score four straight points, preventing the comeback from happening again, but another three from North Texas kept them in the game.
Two missed free throws from Virginia kept the door open for the Mean Green, who cut the lead to two behind a shot from Perry. Gardner finally made two free throws for the Cavaliers, but a wild scramble for the ball under North Texas’s hoop resulted in an offensive rebound and a three-point play that cut the lead to 70-69. A free throw from Clark led to a last-second shot to win for Perry, but the ball bounced harmlessly off the rim for a 71-69 Virginia victory. Although it wasn’t always pretty, the Cavaliers will advance to the quarterfinals of the NIT.
Virginia will be back in Charlottesville Tuesday to take on St. Bonaventure for a chance to go to Madison Square Garden. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN.