Virginia men’s basketball took on Florida Friday night in Charlotte, N.C. in its second game of the season. The Cavaliers (2-0, 0-0 ACC) relied on their bench — namely freshman forward Blake Buchanan — to get downhill and to the free-throw line against the Gators (1-1, 0-0 SEC). The teams shared back-and-forth buckets down the stretch until Virginia forced two turnovers to close out the game, coming away with a nail-biting 73-70 victory.
Florida started the scoring, putting Virginia down 4-0 within the first two minutes. Although sophomore guard Isaac McKneely knocked down a three-pointer, Florida quickly responded with three layups to make the score 12-4.
The Cavaliers responded with a 14-2 run led by sophomore guard Ryan Dunn. Dunn finished through contact to make the score 9-14 and collected a rebound on the other end, which facilitated a three-point look from sophomore guard Andrew Rohde. With 11 minutes left in the half, Virginia led 18-14.
Florida’s junior guards Will Richard and Walter Clayton Jr. kept the score close by finding nylon on three-point attempts. Throughout the game, the Gators also capitalized on second-chance opportunities from their 21 offensive rebounds, eight of which were in the first half.
Redshirt junior guard Dante Harris made his presence felt by the end of the first half, connecting on all three of his field goal attempts and dishing out two assists. The Georgetown transfer totaled 15 minutes, some of which came from starting senior guard Reece Beekman coming off the court for a breather.
Virginia entered the second half leading 39-35. Beekman, who was the top scorer in the first half with 10 points, connected with Buchanan for two assists to extend the lead to 44-37. Graduate student forward Jake Groves continued the scoring, tallying 10 straight points for Virginia before missing a wide-open dunk off of a steal.
Leading 54-43 with the offense hot, the Cavaliers appeared to be pulling away from the Gators. However, after a Groves jumper with just over 13 minutes left in the game, Virginia went on a 5-minute scoring drought and gave up the lead, 54-55.
Buchanan changed the outlook of the game down the stretch by getting to the free-throw line. The freshman relentlessly attacked the bucket and picked up fouls along the way, giving him 10 made free throws in the final eight minutes. He had no field goals in that stretch.
The Gators’ bigs continued to frustrate Virginia when trying to secure defensive rebounds. With under four minutes to go, sophomore center Micah Handlogten grabbed his eighth offensive rebound of the game, leading to a game-tying layup.
After sharing a pair of buckets in the paint, the score was square at 69. Buchanan connected on two free throws before being involved in a peculiar play.
The officials ruled Clayton turned the ball over out of bounds as Buchanan slapped the ball free. Upon further review, the officials maintained their call. However, after Cory Alexander, color commentator and former Virginia basketball player, offered the officials another angle, they awarded Florida possession. Coach Tony Bennett erupted from the Virginia bench visibly upset and pointing at Alexander.
Despite the reversal, Florida only scored one more point. On each of their final two possessions, Clayton turned the ball over, first to Dunn, before Florida could get off a shot. Clayton put up an off-target Hail Mary shot as the clock hit zeros.
The Cavaliers’ victory can be partly attributed to their discipline on offense. Virginia turned the ball over just six times compared to Florida’s 16. Beyond turnovers, Virginia stuck to what was working — attacking the rim. Buchanan shot 16 free throws, more than the entire Florida roster combined.
Although Virginia held Florida to 40 percent shooting from the field, Bennett will look to improve upon defensive rebounding. Florida’s 21 offensive rebounds led to many second-chance buckets, which could make the difference in Virginia’s upcoming matches.
The Cavaliers hope to remain in the win column Tuesday against North Carolina A&T at 7 p.m., which will start a short two-game homestand for Virginia. The game will be streamed on ACC Network.