In a Tuesday matchup that pitted a couple of one-loss teams with undefeated ACC seasons on the line, Virginia men’s basketball was outdueled 66-64 by Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The No. 6 Cavaliers (8-2, 1-1 ACC) couldn’t overcome a slow start and poor three-point shooting in a rare loss to the No. 22 Hurricanes (12-1, 3-0 ACC).
“We just dug too deep of a hole to start the game and to start the second half,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “Miami is a talented offensive group and it was a hard-fought game.”
Despite Miami’s overall dominance in the early going, it was fifth-year forward Jayden Gardner who scored the game’s first points on a short-range jumpshot. But that was all Virginia got in the first 4:44 of the contest. After Gardner’s bucket, the Hurricanes embarked on a 12-0 run that included threes from senior guard Jordan Miller and sophomore guard Wooga Poplar, forcing coach Tony Bennett to call an early timeout.
In brighter spirits for the Cavaliers, they soon found their rhythm on offense. Graduate student guard Kihei Clark and graduate student forward Ben Vander Plas found the cylinder with three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, cutting Virginia’s deficit from 10 down to four in a mere 45 seconds of action. Vander Plas’ basket was a promising sight for the Cavaliers, as the forward entered Tuesday having made just one of his previous 15 attempts from beyond the arc.
But Virginia’s control of the game was brief, as Miami immediately responded with yet another extended run. Sophomore guard Bensley Joseph made good on two triples across three possessions before junior guard Isaiah Wong converted a four-point play to cap a 12-2 Hurricanes spurt that put the hosts on top 26-12 with 9:15 to play. Wong’s trey was Miami’s fifth of the first half, several of which were the beneficiary of uncharacteristic defensive lapses by the Cavaliers.
Virginia was able to settle in for a period after the Hurricanes had built up the game’s largest advantage up to that point, and it was junior guard Reece Beekman at the helm. Beekman contributed to each of the Cavaliers last 5 baskets of the half, using ball screens to get into the lane and find the likes of Gardner and Shedrick for easy points. Virginia had cut their deficit to six with 1:52 remaining, but went cold in the period’s final two minutes and entered the break down 36-26.
Beekman finished the first half with a game-high seven assists, also grabbing four rebounds to lead the Cavaliers. But Wong had his way with the junior on the other side of the court, where he caused major problems both inside and outside the paint on his way to 12 first-half points. Virginia’s efforts to mount a serious second-half response hinged heavily on their ability to slow down Wong, and slow down the game as a whole.
In the early possessions of the final frame, the Cavaliers looked unable to do so. Wong cashed in on a shot from several feet behind the three-point line that took Miami’s lead to 41-26 with 17:52 to play. That bucket was one of few from either team in the second half’s first several minutes, as the Cavaliers and the Hurricanes combined to score only eight points in the opening 7:45 of the period.
But Virginia would soon come alive, with Vander Plas leading the charge. The forward scored 10 consecutive points for the Cavaliers, using a trio of trifectas to highlight a 13-2 run that carried the visitors within a single point of Miami. The Hurricanes responded with a quick four-point surge, but Virginia was sounding the alarm bells on what had become a 47-42 contest as the clock ticked under eight minutes.
The Cavaliers brought the proceedings to within three after a Gardner layup, but an instant 8-2 run by Miami put the hosts up 55-46 as the two sides headed for the final media timeout. If a change in the result was coming, Virginia would need to orchestrate it in a hurry.
Clark tried to work the Cavaliers back into the game in the late stages, going to the free-throw line on three consecutive possessions and draining five of his six attempts. But the Hurricanes continued to find much-needed responses on their trips over halfcourt, and a free throw from Wong sent Miami into a commanding 61-51 advantage that it held until there was just 1:02 left to play.
But just as the Hurricanes were ready to celebrate, Virginia put their plans on hold. The Cavaliers — again led by Vander Plas and Beekman — took off on an 8-0 run that spanned 36 seconds to trim Miami’s lead to two points. Following a parade of free throws, Virginia had brought the contest to a 65-64 score with five seconds left in the game.
On the ensuing possession, Miami sophomore guard Nigel Pack missed one of his two free throws and opened the door for a signature Cavalier turnaround, but Beekman lost control of the ball as he drove down the lane and time expired on Virginia’s comeback hopes. The junior had nothing to hang his head about, however, having come one assist and one rebound shy of a triple-double performance while battling a nagging hamstring injury.
“Reece [Beekman] is such a key for us,” Bennett said. “He is getting better but I don’t think he’s full strength yet.”
Wong scored 24 points en route to his fourth straight 20-point showing, while Vander Plas led the Cavaliers with 20. The graduate student made four of his nine three-point attempts, with the rest of Virginia’s roster combining to make only two on 14 attempts. Shooting struggles from senior guard Armaan Franklin (0-7), Clark (2-10) and freshman guard Isaac McKneely (1-9) were ultimately what did the Cavaliers in.
“When you don’t shoot well, … I think we need to be a little sounder and a little scrappier in certain areas,” Bennett said. “We’ll keep addressing that and keep working on trying to get quality shots.”
Looking ahead, Virginia will next be in action for a matchup against Albany Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va. The game will tip off at 6 p.m. and is set to be streamed on ACC Network.