No. 13 Virginia faced off against Albany back at home Wednesday night, eager to get a win after falling to No. 3 Houston and No. 14 Miami in its previous two games.
The Cavaliers (9-2, 1-1 ACC) struggled at the start to take down the Great Danes (5-10, 0-0 AEC) and the offensive performance didn’t particularly inspire confidence early. With junior guard Reece Beekman out due to injury — thrusting freshman guard Isaac McKneely and graduate student forward Ben Vander Plas into the starting lineup for the first time this season — the offense again was without its spark plug. Despite Beekman’s absence, Virginia was able to win 66-46.
At the first media timeout, the Cavaliers led 8-3 thanks to six early points from graduate student forward Jayden Gardner. Without Beekman, the offense again seemed a little lethargic but took its time settling into the game. Meanwhile, the defense held the Great Danes to 1-4 through five minutes, including two airballs.
Albany roared right back with points from junior guard Malik Edmead and graduate student guard Sarju Patel to take the lead 9-8, but Virginia regained the lead at 12-9 before the second media timeout.
The offense continued to sputter out and after back-to-back threes and a driving layup by Albany, the Cavaliers found themselves down 15-19 with just under eight minutes remaining in the half. A 7-20 start from the field, including 0-5 from three, was largely to blame for the shaky start.
However, senior guard Armaan Franklin and junior forward Kadin Shedrick helped from the field and the charity stripe to tie the game with under five to play at 24-24. A shot clock violation by the Great Danes with 3:40 to play injected energy into the Charlottesville faithful, hoping the Cavaliers could build a lead going into the half.
The offense looked like it wouldn’t be able to turn things around until a stroke of magic by graduate student guard Kihei Clark truly ignited the crowd and rest of the team. After Franklin hit a layup through contact and added the foul shot, Clark stripped Edmead in the backcourt for a wide open layup to make it 29-24. He did the same exact thing to make it 31-24, dispossessing Edmead and laying the ball in.
The Cavaliers went on an 11-0 run to finish the half up 33-24. Clark ran the offense well without Beekman in the first half, dishing out five assists while Gardner and Franklin led the way with 10 points a piece. The paint was key as Virginia outscored Albany 20-10.
Meanwhile, the Great Danes’ two leading scorers who combined average 25 points per game — senior forward Gerald Drumgoole Jr. and freshman forward Jonathan Beagle — were held to two and four points in the first half, respectively.
As the second half got underway, the offense picked up right where it left off at the end of the first half as McKneely made a tough layup and Franklin drilled a wide-open three to give the Cavaliers a 38-24 lead, their largest of the night thus far.
Gardner continued to carry the offensive load, using a nice post move for a layup on one possession then converting an and-one opportunity on the next possession, making it 43-26.
The offense finally felt like it had settled in and was operating with solid consistency, as Clark hit a three-pointer, drew a foul on the following possession and Franklin made a layup and then a deep jumper. With just under 12 minutes to play, Virginia led 51-28 and was in full control of the game.
The game slowed down but the Cavalier defense shut down the Albany Offense. With 4:30 remaining, the Virginia lead was 28 as the score sat at 60-32. Albany hit a couple of threes towards the end to cut the lead to 20 as the Cavaliers ran out the clock.
Franklin finished the game with a team-high 20 points and shot a perfect 4-4 from the field in the second half. Meanwhile, Clark added another five assists in the second half as he facilitated the offense to end with 10 assists.
The Great Danes shot 16-52 from the field, and just 7-29 in the second half compared to 9-23 in the first half.
The performance against Albany continued somewhat of a rough offensive trend for the Cavaliers as 2022 comes to a close and ACC play gets fully underway. The Virginia offense will need to hit more open shots with consistency as they face much tougher competition in January and February. However, the second half was much more promising as Franklin and company moved with more fluidity and seemed much more able to shoot from the field.
Free throw shooting still plagues the Cavaliers, as they shot just 11-20 from the line. However, by putting up 66 points, the Cavaliers scored their most points in their last five games. They had scored 64 points or fewer in each of their last four.
Up next for Virginia is a New Year’s Eve clash with Georgia Tech on the road. Tip-off is scheduled for noon Saturday and the game will be broadcast on ACC Network and the Virginia Sports Radio Network.