In its first true road game of the season, Virginia men’s basketball fought back from down 11 points at halftime to win a thriller at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. Tuesday night. The Cavaliers (6-0, 0-0 ACC) again passed a key early-season test against a powerful Wolverine (5-2, 0-0 Big Ten) team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
After six minutes, the Cavaliers led 13-10. Virginia got off to a hot start, leading by as many as nine points as junior forward Kadin Shedrick hit a three-pointer, but the Wolverines fired back with a pair of threes of their own. The tone of the game instantly felt quick as both teams fired big offensive punches early.
Despite Virginia’s early offensive success, Michigan continued to respond well and jumped out to a 23-15 lead as both junior center Hunter Dickinson and freshman guard Jett Howard carried the scoring load for the Wolverines while forcing poor shots from the Cavaliers.
While the Cavaliers came into the game shooting 20.6 free throws per game, second in the NCAA, not a single foul had been called on the Wolverines for the first 13 and a half minutes.
The size of Dickinson was the main issue for Virginia as he took advantage of graduate student forward Ben Vander Plas throughout the latter of the first half. The 7-foot-1 Dickinson essentially bullied the 6-foot-8 Vander Plas around en route to 14 points in the first half, with eight coming from right underneath the basket as Shedrick and senior forward Francisco Caffaro fell into foul trouble early.
However, the Cavaliers kept it close as junior guard Reece Beekman led the way with 13 points and the Cavaliers managed to get to the free throw line with just a few minutes remaining as the score stood 33-29 in favor of Michigan with 3:37 remaining in the half.
Yet the Wolverines’ three-point shooting prevailed as they shared the ball and took advantage of the size difference between the two teams. The Wolverines either fed the ball to Dickinson, guarded by Vander Plas, or proceeded to kick the ball out to a ready three-point shooter. Michigan led 45-34 at the half.
Michigan shot 19-31 from the field including an impressive 7-13 from three-point range. Its shooting was the story of the first half as defensively, the Cavaliers simply had no answers for the threat of Dickinson in the paint or the sharp shooting of Howard and company from beyond the arc.
Virginia shot out of the gates to start the second half, going on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to four at 48-44. Despite Michigan’s attempts to reestablish control, a Shedrick dunk just before the under-16 media timeout cut the Wolverine lead to two points at 50-48.
Despite the Cavaliers’ early second half rally, the Wolverines fought back to play tough defense and make contested shots. With 10 minutes remaining, Michigan led by a score of 58-54.
Back-to-back charges taken by the Cavaliers ignited the Virginia offense. Down two points with eight minutes and change remaining, graduate student guard Kihei Clark made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 58. The game felt like a late-March matchup as both teams were delivering heavy punches back and forth.
A Vander Plas layup gave Virginia the first lead at 60-58 since 13-12 in the first half. Yet with seven minutes remaining, Virginia was again forced to go to a small ball lineup with Shedrick and Caffaro both with four fouls.
Michigan went on over a six-and-a-half minute streak without a field goal, starting with 10:54 remaining and ending with 3:37 to go.
With just under 2 minutes remaining, a controversial moment took place when Dickinson elbowed Shedrick in the mouth, leaving Shedrick’s face and mouth bloodied. The referees called the foul on Shedrick for not allowing Dickinson space to move freely, his fifth and final foul. Dickinson went 1-2 from the line to make it a 66-65, a one-point Michigan lead, with 1:42 left.
The experience and defensive prowess of the Cavaliers shone through again. With both teams missing a shot, Virginia got the ball back with a minute to go. Beekman found graduate student forward Jayden Gardner, who hit a jumper with 43 seconds left to give the Cavaliers a 67-66 lead. After a pair of fouls and three made free throws, Virginia had a 70-66 lead.
Dickinson made a layup to cut the lead to two with seven seconds left. After senior guard Armaan Franklin missed a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining, the Wolverines had a chance to win. Yet Gardner and Beekman shut down Howard, as he failed to get a shot up before the buzzer sounded. The Cavaliers escaped with a 70-68 win in riveting fashion.
Five players scored double digits for Virginia, led by Beekman with 18 points. Clark had 16, Shedrick and Gardner each had 12 and Vander Plas had 10.
A key milestone came for Clark, as he officially passed London Perrantes for the most minutes in a Virginia uniform. Clark’s 4,438 minutes and counting have all been important to the success of Virginia basketball, most notably his pass to Mamadi Diakite in the Elite Eight in 2019. His combination in the backcourt with Beekman will be critical for Virginia as the season progresses.
Coach Tony Bennett experimented at certain points throughout the game with a small-ball lineup combination which saw no Shedrick or Caffaro once those two creeped into foul trouble. Instead, the five players on the floor featured Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Gardner and Vander Plas. While the 6-foot-8 Vander Plas was heavily disadvantaged guarding the 7-foot-1 Dickinson, he caused Dickinson plenty of problems in key passages of play.
“We went with a jumbo package,” Bennett said. “I thought it worked well … [Vander Plas] really gave us a great lift.”
The Cavaliers remain undefeated and will look to stay that way as they open up their ACC account at home Saturday against Florida State. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. and the game will be streamed on ESPN2 and broadcast on the Virginia Sports Radio Network.