Offensive woes end Virginia’s NCAA tournament run almost before it starts

Offensive woes end Virginia’s NCAA tournament run almost before it starts

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

DAYTON, Ohio — Another NCAA tournament appearance for the Virginia men’s basketball team yielded another early exit Tuesday night. This one ended with the Cavaliers falling to fellow No. 10 seed Colorado State, 67-42, in a First Four matchup at University of Dayton Arena amid offensive deficiencies that doomed them all season.

Virginia (23-11) failed to win a game in the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive trip and has not won in college basketball’s showcase event since 2019, when it captured the first national championship in school history. In their previous two appearances — last season vs. Furman and in 2021 vs. Ohio — the Cavaliers bowed out in the round of 64.

“I think, absolutely, I always have to examine our ability to advance,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “We’ve raised the bar really high here. We’ve qualified for this tournament, which is not an easy thing. We’ve done well. But it’s stung to get to this point and not advance. So, of course, we’ve got to keep adding quality players. We’ve got to look at things, certainly, from a system standpoint absolutely.”

For all the defensive superlatives that have come to define the Cavaliers under Bennett, Virginia barely stood a chance against the Rams because of shooting that mined the depths of futility even for a program that finished third to last in the ACC in field goal percentage.

The Cavaliers finished 14 for 56 (25 percent) from the field, including 3 for 17 (17.6 percent) on three-pointers, and fell behind 35-14 not long after halftime on the heels of a scoring drought that extended beyond 12 minutes bridging the halves. The rut ended with point guard Reece Beekman’s turnaround jumper in the lane with 16:37 left, but the closest Virginia came the rest of the way was 15 points.

Beekman scored a team-high 15 points for the Cavaliers on 4-for-16 shooting. Guard Isaac McKneely, the team’s second-leading scorer this season, went 2 for 13 for six points, and forward Jake Groves shot 1 for 8 from the field and 0 for 4 at the free throw line.

“They did a good job pressuring the ball, being in the passing lanes and in the gap,” Beekman said. “I think we ran some good offense today as well. The shots weren’t falling, but I do credit them. They mixed it up with their ball screen coverages, just threw different looks, which kind of messed us up a little bit.”

The pack-line defense that frequently has confounded opponents since Bennett installed it upon his arrival in Charlottesville fizzled as well. The Rams (25-10), who got a game-high 23 points from Joel Scott, scored 36 points in the paint, a deflating number for a team that emphasizes protecting the interior. The Rams advanced to face No. 7 seed Texas in the first round of the Midwest Region on Thursday in Charlotte.

The Cavaliers’ performance added ammunition for detractors questioning whether they belonged in the field of 68.

Their standing remained in serious doubt until the moment their name was revealed on Selection Sunday. Virginia had put itself in such a position by losing four of seven to close the regular season and winning just one game in the ACC tournament before bowing out in the semifinals.

That loss to eventual champion North Carolina State in overtime, 73-65, on Friday at Capital One Arena left the players stunned, particularly because the Cavaliers were leading by six with 51 seconds to play in the second half. But a series of miscues, including going 1 for 5 on free throws, led to the Wolfpack’s Michael O’Connell sinking a desperation three-pointer that banked in at the buzzer to tie it.

Virginia didn’t have long to regroup before making its first appearance in the First Four. The team departed for Dayton on Monday and practiced at the arena before facing the added demand of having a long wait until tipping off in Tuesday night’s second game.

The good feelings from receiving a bid vanished in the first half, with dreadful shooting continuing to plague the Cavaliers. They trailed 27-14 at halftime after shooting 17.2 percent. That marked the fewest points in a half this season for Virginia.

“We felt like we had an opportunity to win here tonight, but that’s a Hall of Fame coach over there,” Colorado State Coach Niko Medved said of Bennett. “That’s an incredible program, one that I have an unbelievable amount of respect for, and so I didn’t see this coming this way tonight at all. But I’m pretty pleased.”

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