In a highly-anticipated Tuesday night matchup between a pair of ranked teams, Virginia men’s basketball took down NC State at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. The No. 8 Cavaliers (18-4, 10-3 ACC) showed why they deserve to remain a top 10 team in the country with a convincing victory over the No. 22 Wolfpack (19-6, 9-5 ACC).
On paper, this matchup was set to be a battle of great offense versus great defense, as the Wolfpack came in ranked 17th in the country in scoring offense with 79.6 points per game. On the other side of the ball, the Cavaliers came in ranked 9th in the country in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 60.9 points per game.
However, the Virginia defense clearly got the upper hand and held the Wolfpack to a season-low in points. The Cavaliers won handily 63-50 in a game that felt close but never really was on the scoreboard.
The game started off with a quick tempo, and a hungry Virginia crowd let the opposing NC State feel it early. Boos from the crowd rained down on former Cavaliers player and now-Wolfpack senior guard Casey Morsell.
Despite the energy, both teams settled in early, and especially Morsell. The senior quickly drained a three-pointer and a fadeaway jumper, while free throws and layups for Virginia gave the Cavaliers an early 10-7 edge over NC State with 15:39 left in the first half.
The Cavaliers locked up defensively and went on a quick hot streak, holding the Wolfpack to 0-4 from the field for a few minutes while making a tough layup. An errant pass from NC State into the hands of junior guard Reece Beekman gave him a breakaway opportunity to throw down a ferocious two-handed dunk, sending John Paul Jones arena into a frenzy and Virginia into a 15-7 advantage.
Junior forward Kadin Shedrick and graduate student forward Jayden Gardner’s continued double-teaming of graduate student forward DJ Burns Jr. frustrated him and caused several turnovers, and a three-pointer from freshman guard Isaac McKneely helped push the Cavaliers' advantage to double digits.
The game slowed down as the half wore on, as both teams took more time on each offensive possession. The Wolfpack struggled to make shots after the third media timeout, enduring a scoring drought lasting over five and a half minutes before a hook shot from Burns finally ended the agony.
Gardner was leading Virginia’s charge in the meantime, sinking multiple mid-range jumpers and jamming home a wide-open dunk off of a feed from Beekman.
At the break, the score stood 34-20 Virginia after a dominant end to the half. The Wolfpack shot just 8-31 from the field, while the Cavaliers were a much more efficient 13-25 on field goal attempts. Gardner led Virginia with 12 points and grabbed three rebounds.
Despite a 6-0 Cavaliers run to start the second half, NC State sophomore guard Terquavion Smith kept the Wolfpack in the game by way of two deep three-pointers and a layup in quick succession.
Morsell added six points of his own to cut the gap down to 12 with just under 12 minutes to play. But while Virginia could not ever find much space of its own on the perimeter due to tight defense by NC State, the paint was left open on numerous occasions and gave the Cavaliers plenty of opportunities at the free-throw line to keep their distance from NC State.
Nonetheless, the Wolfpack cut the lead to single digits after a Burns jumper made it 51-42 Virginia with around seven minutes left. The Cavaliers were able to hold the Wolfpack off for the next few minutes, as the lead remained safe behind more important points from Gardner.
NC State had its opportunities to mount even more pressure on the hosts, but key plays by Virginia on both ends – led by McKneely, who came up with a block and a three-pointers in the game’s final few minutes – assured the Cavaliers’ advantage never sunk below nine.
In an ironic ending, Morsell recorded his fifth and final foul with 50 seconds left, walking off the court to many Virginia fans waving goodbye.
Gardner and Beekman led the Virginia offense, pouring in 18 and 15 points respectively. It was a slow night from the three-point line for the Cavaliers, as McKneely made the only two three-pointers for Virginia. For the Wolfpack, the scoring was far from balanced. Smith and Morsell combined for 37 points, as NC State had just four total players score in the contest.
Shedrick’s role on Burns and other Wolfpack big men was key, and Coach Tony Bennett seemed to use him effectively in double-teams with Gardner and graduate student forward Ben Vander Plas.
“I was so happy for Kadin…to respond like that and help us out, and that made our defense different,” Bennett said.
The return of Shedrick was pivotal for the Cavaliers after a loss against Virginia Tech in which Shedrick never saw the floor. While it seems like Bennett has been reluctant to tinker with the small ball lineup that has proven so successful as of late, Shedrick proved Tuesday why he will play an important role if Virginia makes a strong run in March.
For the 38th straight home game against an ACC opponent, the Cavaliers held their opponent to below 70 points. With the win, the Cavaliers vault into a tie with Clemson and Pittsburgh at the top of the ACC standings, as all three teams stand at 10-3.
Up next for Virginia is a critical home showdown against Duke at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN.