Following an all-encompassing victory Monday against Miami and its high-octane offense, the Cavaliers (19-5, 10-3 ACC) looked to beat a team of similar firepower in Florida State (13-10, 7-5 ACC) away from the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena. Coach Tony Bennett opted for a similar approach to that which has been working for Virginia as of late, featuring graduate forward Jordan Minor in the starting lineup to give the Cavaliers strength in the post. Ultimately, the Cavaliers escaped with an 80-76 triumph.
It took Virginia just over three minutes to score its first points of the contest but once sophomore guard Andrew Rohde knocked down an open three-pointer, the Cavaliers were off to the races. The early minutes of the game saw Virginia employ a score-by-committee approach, with Minor, sophomore guard Isaac McKneely and graduate forward Jake Groves each contributing two points to give the Cavaliers an early 9-4 lead.
With about 12 minutes left in the first half, McKneely’s night started in earnest. He was fouled behind the three-point line, succeeded on all three of his free throw attempts and then quickly added another three points off of a deep shot from the wing. Junior guard Taine Murray then made a three-point shot of his own to stretch the lead to 10.
A handful of Cavalier free throws were the only source of offensive production for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, Virginia relied on its menacing defense through a spectacular block courtesy of Murray.
Another three points from McKneely gave fans the hope that the squad may have found their offensive footing, but the Cavaliers would struggle to find anything from the field until there was less than five minutes left in the half. Relief from the drought came from none other than McKneely, who made a dazzling midrange shot.
Beekman ended the half with a tremendous scoring display, highlighted by a steal that resulted in an easy shot from right under the rim. A raucous dunk from freshman forward Blake Buchanan off of a beautiful assist from Beekman brought the half to a close, with the Cavaliers holding a slight 34-30 lead.
The second half started precisely the same way as the first half, with Rohde knocking down a three-pointer from beyond the arc to get things going for Virginia. A Beekman drive down the baseline resulted in another two points at the rim. Groves made a layup, and McKneely added another five points to his statline to regain a 10-point lead.
In the middle of the half, the Cavaliers received a boost from Beekman and Groves, who each contributed six points to the effort. The Seminoles still found themselves very much in the game, however, as they only trailed Virginia by five points with nearly six minutes to play.
Despite a strong push from Florida State, McKneely simply could not be stopped as he shot his way to an additional nine points in the final minutes of the game. It was also McKneely who the Cavaliers looked to in making free throws down the final stretch to seal the deal. His three made shots from the line helped to hold off a late push by Florida State to capture the 80-76 victory.
The game saw McKneely set a career-best 29 points and Beekman tie his own record of 21 points, the 50th time that he has reached double figures for Virginia. Groves also continued his excellent run of form, as he has made 16 of his 22 attempts from behind the arc in the last five games.
As much as the game was fueled by the whole cast of Cavaliers who got on the court, much of the talk following the game centered around McKneely’s career night.
“He’s only in his second year and he’s getting more assertive and looking for his shot,” Bennett said in the postgame press conference. “He has deep range but I liked that he put it on the deck a little more, which you have to, and he’s having a heck of a year.”
Virginia is in the midst of a spectacular run that has seen them conquer eight straight opponents to climb up to second place in the ACC standings, just narrowly trailing North Carolina — a team that will make its way to JPJ in the coming weeks. As for right now, though, the Cavaliers will look ahead to their next home game against Pittsburgh Tuesday. The contest tips off at 7 p.m. on ACC Network.