In a Saturday afternoon matchup between two teams each on four-game winning streaks, Virginia men’s basketball extended their unbeaten run to five with a 76-67 victory over Wake Forest at the Lawrence Jones Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Cavaliers (15-3, 7-2 ACC) never trailed the Demon Deacons (14-6, 6-3 ACC) in the second half on their way to securing second place outright in the ACC.
“The game was back and forth, a lot of shots made,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “It was live, you could feel it, and so plays needed to be made down the stretch.”
Although Virginia had one of its better offensive performances of the season, the Cavaliers encountered severe struggles in the early stages of the game. Virginia missed its first eight field goal attempts before graduate student forward Ben Vander Plas finally got the Cavaliers on the board with a putback layup. Wake Forest failed to build a substantial lead despite Virginia’s sluggish offensive start in the opening minutes, as the Demon Deacons held just a 5-2 advantage with 15:52 to play.
The Cavaliers managed to shake their offensive woes when the two sides exited the initial media timeout. Graduate student forward Jayden Gardner made good on a mid-range jumper to cut the deficit to only one. After a response from the Demon Deacons, graduate student guard Kihei Clark sunk Virginia’s first and second triples on back-to-back possessions to send the Cavaliers into a 10-9 lead.
Wake Forest temporarily regained their edge after a three-pointer from graduate student guard Tyree Appleby and a layup from sophomore guard Cameron Hildreth, but those buckets weren’t nearly enough to keep up with a red-hot Virginia. Across a period of just under four minutes, the Cavaliers embarked on a sweeping 17-0 run aided by five three-pointers. Senior guard Armaan Franklin was responsible for three of them, while freshman guard Isaac McKneely and junior guard Reece Beekman each chipped in with one apiece. Suddenly, Virginia led 29-14 with 7:43 remaining.
Franklin didn’t lose his hot hand out of the break, as the senior poured in five more points — including his fourth three-pointer of the half — to give himself 18 points for the period. The Cavaliers enjoyed a 19-point cushion heading into the half’s final minutes.
But junior guard Damari Monsanto made sure the Demon Deacons stayed close as the first half wound down. The junior scored 11 straight Wake Forest points in under two minutes of action, leading the way for the home side in what became a 17-8 run before the buzzer sounded on the opening frame. When it did, the Demon Deacons had trimmed their deficit to 10.
It was an incredible offensive performance from Virginia in the first 20 minutes, as the Cavaliers drilled nine three-pointers while adding 14 assists on their way to 42 first-half points. But on the other end, Bennett and Virginia would need to find a way to slow down Monsanto — who scored 14 of Wake Forest’s 32 points in the first period — to keep the winning streak alive.
The Cavaliers struck first in the second half through a Vander Plas three-pointer, but it was the Demon Deacons who controlled the early portion of the period. Led by its trio of Appleby, Monsanto and Hildreth, Wake Forest put together a much-needed 7-0 surge to get within six points of Virginia with just under 17 minutes left.
The ensuing several minutes of the contest were played in a deadlock. The Cavaliers’ freshmen duo came up big for Bennett during the passage. McKneely drained two free throws and added a three-pointer, while freshman guard Ryan Dunn found the bottom of the net on a three of his own. Four more important points from Hildreth kept the Demon Deacons close, but Virginia maintained a 54-47 advantage into the under-12 media timeout.
“We’ve been playing some solid basketball and those two [Dunn and McKneely] have been an important part of it,” Bennett said.
As the seconds ticked by, the home crowd inside Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum only grew louder. That noise — coupled with unfortunate foul trouble for both Clark and Beekman — pushed Wake Forest closer and closer to the Cavaliers. Four free throws from Appleby and yet another Monsanto triple pulled the Demon Deacons to within just one point of Virginia with 7:36 remaining in the game.
With the Cavaliers' lead dwindling, Bennett sent his two veteran guards back into the game. Right on cue, Beekman drew a foul and made both shots from the charity stripe. Soon after, Clark found Franklin for an uncontested dunk on the following possession. Several important defensive stops and rebounds from Dunn on the other end — as well as an emphatic putback jam on offense — allowed Virginia to maintain a two-possession lead with under four minutes to play.
On the decision to put Clark and Beekman back into the game, Bennett voiced simple logic. “They both can’t get a foul at the same time,” Bennett said. “If one of them picks up a foul, they both can’t.”
Holding a 65-60 edge, Beekman and Franklin knocked down three-pointers within 72 seconds of each other to give the Cavaliers a seemingly insurmountable 10-point cushion with 1:18 left on the clock. But yet again, Monsanto wouldn’t let Wake Forest go down quietly. The guard rattled home a stepback three-pointer and used a Clark turnover to score again 17 seconds later. The Demon Deacons suddenly trailed by four with plenty of time to complete their comeback.
But just as he has so many times before, Clark stood tall at the free-throw line when Virginia counted on him the most. The graduate student converted each of his four attempts in the final minute, staving off any last-ditch efforts from Monsanto. The Cavaliers dribbled out the final seconds of Wake Forest’s first home loss of the season.
Franklin paced Virginia with 25 points, adding a career-high 10 rebounds for a double-double performance. Clark chipped in with 12 while McKneely poured in 11 on three threes. For the Demon Deacons, Monsanto set career-highs with 25 points and seven three-pointers.
The Cavaliers will return to action Saturday when they host Boston College at John Paul Jones Arena. The game will tip off at 12:00 p.m. and will be aired on ACC Network Extra.