No. 3 Virginia men’s basketball opened their ACC campaign in winning fashion for the 15th consecutive season Saturday, toppling Florida State 62-57. The Cavaliers (7-0, 1-0 ACC) got a scare from the Seminoles (1-9, 0-1 ACC), but key free-throw shooting down the stretch from graduate student guard Kihei Clark and junior guard Reece Beekman propelled Virginia to a nervy victory.
As the game tipped off, it was junior forward Kadin Shedrick who immediately set the tone. Shedrick swatted two Florida State layups within the first four minutes of play, while also connecting on a layup of his own on the offensive end. The junior’s bright start — which would end with four blocks for the game — put the Cavaliers up 6-4 as the two sides headed for the first media timeout.
“I thought [Shedrick] was really good,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “Sometimes there are breakdowns that happen defensively, and when you have a rim protector, you anchor your defense.”
Out of the break, both teams’ struggles from the floor came to the forefront. Virginia and the Seminoles combined to make good on just five of their first 22 field goal attempts, resulting in a 9-9 deadlock with 11:23 to play. Senior guard Armaan Franklin found the bottom of the net on a three-pointer that gave the Cavaliers the lead, but Florida State freshman guard Tom House responded with a three for the Seminoles to knot things up.
It was more of the same as the first half ticked into its closing ten minutes. Virginia missed seven consecutive field goal attempts, highlighted by a possession in which the Cavaliers gathered two offensive rebounds but couldn’t convert on any of their three shots. Florida State remained cold on its side of the floor, but another three-pointer from House gave the Seminoles their first lead with 8:58 left on the clock.
The period’s last eight minutes played out much like its first 12, with Virginia continuing to falter from the field while Florida State ground out their respective offensive possessions. Threes from Clark — who paced the Cavaliers with 18 points on the night — and freshman guard Isaac McKneely kept the Cavaliers within a point heading into halftime, where the Seminoles held a narrow 22-21 advantage.
Virginia could only be met with frustration from their display in the opening frame. The Cavaliers shot just 23.1 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from three-point range, while their six first-half turnovers were only one less than they committed in the entirety of their Tuesday win over Michigan.
“I thought we were a bit sluggish in the first half, partly credited to Florida State,” Bennett said.
Thankfully for Virginia, the Seminoles hadn’t enjoyed much success of their own in the same timeframe, shooting a measly 25 percent from the field and thus failing to build on their slim lead.
Florida State paid an immediate price for that missed opportunity, as the Cavaliers finally started to see their shots go down when the second period opened. Virginia scored seven points on their first three possessions of the half, capped off by a three from Franklin that put Virginia in front 28-24, matching the largest lead for either team in the game.
But the Cavaliers didn’t stop there. Clark converted on two free throws thanks to a flagrant foul committed by sophomore center Naheem McLeod, while Beekman and graduate student forward Ben Vander Plas each connected on buckets in the paint. Vander Plas’ shot pushed the Virginia run to 13-5 in the first 3:32 of the second half, and the Cavaliers led 34-27.
“Coming out of halftime is always important,” Bennett said. “We just tried to rally the troops defensively and get after it.”
Florida State weathered the storm temporarily, using scrappy defense and the same methodical offense to keep the contest within five points for the next several minutes. However, Virginia eventually broke through yet again, and it was Clark leading the way this time. The graduate student got by his defender for an easy layup before finding Vander Plas for an open three a couple of possessions later. Clark’s exploits acted as a mini five-point run that catapulted the Cavaliers in front by 10 with under 12 minutes remaining.
The game slowed down as it entered the final 10 minutes of play, a theme that Coach Tony Bennett and Virginia will have had no problem with. The Cavaliers’ lead remained safe behind free throws — of which Virginia converted 15 of 18 in the second half — and a key jumper from Clark that gave Virginia a 49-37 advantage.
“These games come down to making some plays and knocking down free throws at the right times,” Bennett said. “We try to put those guys in as many spots like that as possible in practice.”
The Seminoles’ window to get back into the game was quickly closing with every Cavaliers basket, and the visitors began to play like it. A three-pointer by junior guard Darin Green Jr. and multiple baskets from sophomore guard Matthew Cleveland brought the deficit to four with 17 seconds remaining. Beekman threw the ensuing inbounds pass out of bounds, but Florida State couldn’t muster another score to make things interesting, and the clock soon ran out on their comeback hopes.
Virginia’s victory is their seventh consecutive to begin the season, while the Seminoles’ skid has now reached five games. Florida State will hope they’re in better spirits when their chance for revenge against the Cavaliers rolls around Jan. 14.
In the nearer future, Virginia has a Tuesday date with James Madison, with the game set to be streamed on ACC Network for an 8 p.m. tipoff.