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Men’s basketball battles to a win in its first game of the season

The Cavaliers drew fouls early and often and used strong three-point shooting to fight off a pesky opponent in North Carolina Central

<p>Senior guard Armaan Franklin led the Cavaliers Monday night with 21 points which included four three-pointers.</p>

Senior guard Armaan Franklin led the Cavaliers Monday night with 21 points which included four three-pointers.

After hype has surrounded the Virginia men’s basketball team building up to the season, the No. 18 Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) kicked off their 2022-23 season with a solid win over North Carolina Central University by a score of 73-61. Virginia used strong three-point shooting, pivotal defense in key moments and a huge second-half run to stave off the Eagles (0-1, 0-0 MEAC) Monday night in Charlottesville.

After a slow start to the game, the Cavaliers took a 9-4 lead with two three-pointers from senior guard Armaan Franklin and one three-pointer from junior guard Reece Beekman. 

Additionally, Virginia began to impose their physical will on the Eagles, drawing fouls left and right from North Carolina Central as both graduate student center Brendan Medley-Bacon and senior guard Marque Maultsby committed two fouls in the first five minutes for the Eagles.

This theme continued as the Cavaliers hit the bonus with 10 minutes left in the first half, and the double bonus with just seven minutes left. Five players for North Carolina Central had two or more fouls in the first half.

The Cavaliers used free throws and Franklin’s shooting to jump out to a 31-15 lead with 7:08 remaining in the first half. But the Eagles would battle back, going on an 8-0 run to cut the lead in half with under three minutes to play. 

Virginia led 38-30 as the Eagles cut the lead down from 15 points to eight going into the halftime locker room thanks to the shooting from junior guard Justin Wright for the Eagles. Wright went 5-8 from the field for 16 points, including a perfect 3-3 from three point range.

The story for most of the first half was Virginia’s three-point shooting and defense. Specifically, Franklin led the Cavaliers shooting 3-3 from beyond the arc. He had 13 points, adding three rebounds and an assist. Senior center Francisco Caffaro also added eight points and three rebounds for the Cavaliers in the opening frame.

Virginia shot 6-12 from three-point range in the first half and 9-22 from the field, as well as 14-16 from the free throw line. The Cavaliers held the Eagles to 10-29 shooting from the field.

The Eagles opened the second half hungry to continue cutting into Virginia’s lead as senior forward Eric Boone opened with a three pointer and a driving layup to shrink the deficit to three points. 

However, foul trouble remained an issue for North Carolina Central as Maultsby picked up two fouls in the first five minutes, forcing Coach LeVelle Moton to substitute him out of the game to prevent him from fouling out.

While fouls picked up again for the Eagles, the Cavaliers came out of halftime flat-footed on offense as the Eagles took the lead for the first time since the opening basket of the game. With the score at 44-43 in favor of North Carolina Central, Virginia suddenly woke up and began playing with intensity again.

A three-pointer from graduate student guard Kihei Clark followed by a steal and breakaway two-handed dunk for Beekman ignited the Virginia fans. While both Wright and Boone tried to keep the Eagles in the game, Virginia had regained its energy offensively and the lead for good.

Following a dunk from Caffaro and a three-pointer from graduate student forward Ben Vander Plas, the lead was back to double digits. The Eagles continued to try and chip away at the lead but foul trouble prevented their comebacks from ever gaining traction. 

Junior forward Kadin Shedrick also played a role in the Cavaliers’ second-half surge of energy, as he made extra efforts on the offensive glass and a key block on senior forward Dan Oladapo with 5:10 remaining which seemed to take all the air out of the Eagles.

Virginia closed the game out well, as Clark hit a three-pointer to make the score 71-56 and all but secure the win with 3:37 left.

Franklin led the way offensively for Virginia, scoring 21 points on 5-9 shooting from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line. Shedrick and Caffaro also each added 10 points and combined for 11 rebounds.

Overall, the Cavaliers shot 44 percent from beyond the arc and 73.3 percent from the free-throw line, both of which greatly contributed to the win.

Meanwhile, Boone and Wright were huge for the Eagles, scoring 18 and 20 points, respectively. Their shooting kept North Carolina Central in the game and prevented Virginia from turning the contest into a blowout.

Coach Tony Bennett played nine players, two of whom made their Virginia debuts. Freshman guard Isaac McKneely and Vander Plas both played 23 minutes and looked solid in their first appearances. Going forward, it will be interesting to track their involvement in the rotation as well as freshman forward Isaac Traudt’s role as Bennett tries to find the best combination of lineups for Virginia.

Bennett spoke on the adversity that the team responded to after trailing in the opening minutes of the second half.

“It was a good response when we got a little shaky,” Bennett said. “Credit to NC Central for making us work. They played hard and they didn’t back down on both ends.”

The Cavaliers will be back in action this Friday at home versus Monmouth. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. and the game will be streamed on ACC regional sports networks as well as broadcasted on the Virginia Sports Radio Network.


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