Virginia men’s basketball never trailed during their Tuesday night demolition of North Carolina A&T at home. The Cavaliers (3-0, 0-0 ACC) gained a 10-6 over the Aggies (0-3, 0-0 CAA) before opening up the deficit with a 28-8 run in the middle of the first half. A complacent Virginia was outscored in the second half, but still managed to ease to a 80-51 point win.
Virginia’s freshman forward Blake Buchanan won the opening tip-off and within 15 seconds an acrobatic layup by sophomore guard Ryan Dunn gave the Cavalier’s the opening points of the game. The Aggies answered with two points of their own, but sophomore guard Andrew Rohde sank a reverse layup on the next possession and gave Virginia a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Coming out of the first media timeout, sophomore guard Isaac McKneely beat the Aggie full court press and cashed in an open jumper. A&T responded with one of their own, keeping the Virginia advantage at four. The Cavaliers then proceeded to break the game open, going on runs of 8-0, 10-0 and 8-0 over the next 11 minutes. Virginia was buoyed by hot three point shooting, where it shot six of eight in the first half, with McKneely and graduate student forward Jake Groves both notching a pair of triples. The Cavaliers also exercised their physical advantage over the smaller Aggies players to out-rebound A&T 23-11 in the first half. Another portion of the points came from slick pick-and-rolls between Buchanan and senior guard Reece Beekman including one that ended in a powerful dunk from the young big man.
After a few Aggie baskets and some smooth turnaround jumpers from redshirt freshman forward Leon Bond III, the final minute of the half approached. During a scrum for the ball, McKneely’s ankle was stepped on and he fell to the court, clutching his ankle. McKneely walked off the court with help from teammates and went straight to the locker room with the help of trainers. He returned to the bench for the second half wearing a walking boot on his left foot but did not reenter the game.
“I think, hopefully, Isaac's alright,” Bennett said after the game. “He got X-rays and it wasn't broken. So we'll see how serious it is, and he'll walk or live with it, and get treatment and see where it's at.”
Virginia closed out an otherwise fantastic half of hoops with a pair of free throws from junior guard Dante Harris, giving them a lead of 49-19 at halftime.
The Cavaliers came out firing in the second half, with Dunn forcing a turnover and then collecting an offensive rebound before slinging the ball around the horn to Buchanan for an easy score. Moments later, Dunn brought down the roof of John Paul Jones Arena after a Harris block and a Rohde outlet pass set him a thunderous slam dunk.
After the game, North Carolina A&T Coach Monté Harris stated his team’s intentions for the second half. “We had two goals at halftime,” Harris said. “We wanted to try to win the second half. We also wanted to try to limit their three point shots.”
His Aggies accomplished both goals, outscoring the Cavaliers 32-31 and holding them 0-5 from deep over the final period.
The Bulldogs began to chip away at the lead by running the floor more often and shooting three-pointers early in the shot clock. Sophomore guard Landon Glasper followed Dunn’s dunk with a pair of transition threes. Overall, Glasper improved from 1-5 behind the arc in the first half to 4-6 in the second. He would finish with a game-high 18 points, 12 of them coming in the second half.
After Glasper’s onslaught, Dunn again sent JPJ into uproar by connecting with Beekman on a high-flying alley-oop. The arena only got louder when Buchanan swatted a shot into the student section a few seconds later.
Moments later, Bond elicited a laugh when he ducked between a leaping Aggie’s legs before slamming home an easy dunk to keep the Virginia lead at 28 points. Bond would finish the night with a team-high 16 points on 80 percent field goal shooting.
The game began to wind down over the next several minutes as both teams settled into a rhythm – Virginia whipping the ball around the court quickly, but not as effectively as in the first half, and the Aggies jacking up deep threes against the formidable Cavalier defense.
The Cavaliers gained a 34-point advantage with about 6 minutes to play, their biggest lead of the night, then began to pull starters. At the five minute mark, Dunn left the game with a 13-point double-double.
Virginia junior guard Bryce Walker — a walk-on and former practice team member — entered the game with three minutes to play and helped cause a shot clock violation on defense, to the delight of the home crowd. Moments later, junior guard Taine Murray dribbled out the clock and Virginia cemented their 80-51 triumph. The Cavaliers were obviously happy with any win, but were particularly pleased with the first half onslaught that left no doubt in the game’s outcome.
“We focused all week on not really playing down to the level of competition," Groves said. “You know, taking every opponent seriously and respecting them – knowing that they're a good team and it's college basketball, anyone can beat anyone on any night.”
So far, the Cavaliers have beaten their two smaller school opponents by 29 and 30 points, respectively. It is safe to say Virginia’s focus against small schools has not wavered.
Virginia basketball will be back in JPJ Thursday night with a home game against the Texas Southern Tigers, another small program. The contest starts at 7 p.m. and will air on ACC Network.