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No. 11 men’s basketball catches fire in 74-56 win over Georgia Tech

Cavaliers use a 25-0 run from end of first half and start of second half to dismantle the Yellow Jackets on New Year’s Eve

<p>Graduate student guard Kihei Clark led the Cavaliers with 15 points and eight assists Saturday afternoon.</p>

Graduate student guard Kihei Clark led the Cavaliers with 15 points and eight assists Saturday afternoon.

Virginia men’s basketball faced off against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve for its last game of 2022. After resting due to injury against Albany, junior guard Reece Beekman returned to the lineup to help the Cavaliers. 

An offensive explosion helped power the No. 11 Cavaliers (10-2, 2-1 ACC) over the Yellow Jackets (7-6, 0-3 ACC) 74-56 and end the year on a high note.

The first half saw Virginia get off to a quick start as senior guard Armaan Franklin hit two early threes in the first two minutes. The Yellow Jackets hung tough, however, and largely stayed close to Virginia, thanks to key shots by sophomore guard Miles Kelly.

Graduate student guard Kihei Clark and freshman guard Isaac McKneely also drained three-pointers, with McKneely’s three giving Virginia a 21-12 lead. However, the Cavaliers could not hold the lead and the Yellow Jackets crawled back to make it a two-point deficit at 27-25 with just 2:58 remaining.

A three-pointer by Franklin with 1:49 to go in the first half would be the start of a 25-0 run by Virginia spanning across halftime. After ending the half with nine unanswered points to go into the locker room leading 36-25, Virginia scored 16 more unanswered to start the second half to grab a lead of 27 as the score sat at 52-25 with 14:41 left in the game.

While three-pointing shooting helped ignite the run, key jumpers and dunks by junior forward Kadin Shedrick and graduate student forward Jayden Gardner also sustained the offense. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers forced seven turnovers from the Yellow Jackets over the first five minutes of the second half. 

Georgia Tech fought back, driving to the basket and making layups and free throws to cut into the Virginia lead, yet the Virginia offense responded with three pointers and layups of their own. The closest the Yellow Jackets would get to the Cavaliers would be 18 points, which came from a layup by senior forward Ja’von Franklin with 46 seconds left to make it 74-56.

The key to the win and offensive success was three-point shooting. The Cavaliers shot 10-22 from beyond the arc, coming from four different players. Clark and Beekman had two three pointers each while McKneely and Franklin had three each. 

Great shooting helped the Cavaliers tear apart the Yellow Jacket zone. More importantly, Virginia scored over 70 points for the first time since Nov. 29 when the Cavaliers took down Michigan by a score of 70-68. Virginia is now 7-0 when scoring 70 or more points this season.

Key performers for Virginia included Gardner and Clark. Gardner shot 7-12 from the field to give the Cavaliers 14 points, while Clark shot 6-9 for 15 points while also dishing out eight assists. Clark leads the ACC in assists and is also ranked 17th in the country.

Kelly came off the bench for the Yellow Jackets and largely kept them in the game in the first half. He finished with 20 points, including 5-9 from beyond the arc. However, the 23 turnovers by Georgia Tech combined with the three-point shooting of Virginia were too much for the Yellow Jackets to overcome.

Coach Tony Bennett spoke on the impressive run his team went on to take over the game.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had those kind of runs,” Bennett said. “And that felt good.”

With the win, Bennett is now tied for first in school history in wins with coaching legend Terry Holland at 326.

Going forward, shooting performances like this and aggressive defense again will dictate the Cavaliers’ ability to be a top team in the country. How Virginia looked in November — winning the Continental Tire Main Event and beating ranked teams — is similar to how they looked against Georgia Tech, which is very promising moving forward.