IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Virginia Defeats Syracuse; Bennett Sets the Record

Ken Cross

January 09, 2023 at 1:17 pm.

The Virginia Cavaliers blew out to a double-digit lead in the first half, then relied on Reece Beekman’s free throw ability to defeat Syracuse, 73-66, in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday evening.

For Tony Bennett, it was more than just another conference win. The victory was Bennett’s 327th as the Virginia head coach, sending him past legendary coach Terry Holland into the top spot as the winningest coach in Cavaliers history.

After the game, Bennett talked about the significance of the record and expressed appreciation to people who had contributed and supported him during his Virginia career.

“I want to say thanks to my wife Laurel,” Bennett said. When youre a coachs wife, its a lot. I’m so thankful because we do life together. Ive had some guys who have been my Day Ones or ride-or-dies. Coach (Jason) Williford has been with me from Day One. Coach Mike Curtis, right here; Ronnie Wideman, Day One. Ron SanchezRitchie McKay, that first staff that got it going, every single one of the staff. And it is all about the players. You know how many great players Ive had? This is an ‘us or a we award’ and I got better than I deserve.”

Virginia took a quick 11-2 lead against the Orange as guard Armaan Franklin drained three triples in the first 2:33. Franklin was able to spot-up against the Syracuse zone and make those threes from different spots on the floor.

“Oh if you like to shoot threes, this is probably one of your favorite weeks to come in,” said Franklin. “Knowing that you have good teammates who can work well inside the high post, find you off the bump or when you get into the middle.”

Virginia made 12-of-26 triples which shaded the 11-for-27 shots which were made from two. Freshman Isaac McKneely also had four triples as three came midway through the first half and the third came off the left wing to give Virginia a 28-16 lead.

“I think if you see the first shot go down, the confidence goes up from there,” explained McKneely. “I was thankful that first one went down and then it was up from there.”

Bennett had challenged McKneely to be more aggressive with his shot and against the Orange zone, that became more of an issue. He found himself open on the perimeter he was able to get into a rhythm, making four of seven from beyond the arc.

“He kind of feels like sometimes, I am not taking the shots I should,” said McKneely. “That makes me really happy to hear that from the head coach – that he wants me to shoot more.”

The solid functioning of the Virginia offense came from the Cavaliers’ ability to assist 22 of 23 shots. Point guard Kihei Clark had 11 assists while Beekman checked in with seven assists to go with his 13 points.

“I didn’t think we penetrated it off the dribble well, but those guys make for the most part made some really nice decisions when they got to the high post or looked at things,” said Bennett.