The Cavaliers were faced with some serious barriers down the stretch in the Steel City on Wednesday night.
UVA’s two leading scorers were held to just eight combined points in the second half. Virginia was whistled for 19 fouls in the game, 12 of which came after halftime. Pittsburgh was in the bonus with over 13 minutes left in regulation and attempted 14 free throws in the second half and 22 for the game. Pittsburgh was staying in the game behind its ability to get to the free throw line at will and was threatening to mount a late comeback.
But, behind an impressive performance from Reece Beekman and some critical defensive stands late in the game, Virginia held on to defeat Pittsburgh 66-61 on the road on Wednesday night.
Reece Beekman had an incredible game on both ends of the floor for the Cavaliers. The sophomore guard recorded 19 points on a hyper-efficient 8/11 shooting. He accounted for three of Virginia’s four made three-point field goals in the game, making three of his five attempts. Beekman also dished out eight assists as part of an efficient Virginia offense that had 19 assists on 27 made field goals and shot 60% from the floor in the second half. Beekman also tallied three rebounds, two blocks and a steal to continue his campaign as the ACC’s best defender.
John Hugley, who has emerged as Pittsburgh’s go-to option since the last meeting between these two teams back in December, recorded seven rebounds and 23 points, eight of which came at the free throw line. Virginia struggled to defend Hugley all night, as the officials were calling a tight game and UVA’s bigs were in consistent foul trouble.
A Hugley layup gave the Panthers their largest lead of the game at 22-17 with three minutes remaining in the first half. Reece Beekman then hit a pair of three-pointers as Virginia responded with a strong 10-0 run and scored 12 of the last 15 points of the first half to take a 29-25 lead into halftime.
Francisco Caffaro got the start at center for Virginia over Kadin Shedrick for the second straight game, but Caffaro struggled to contain Hugley without fouling. Shedrick came in off the bench and contributed 12 points on a perfect 6/6 from the floor with two blocks, but also had a difficult time defending without committing fouls. Tony Bennett rotated Caffaro and Shedrick in and out of the game in the second half as they continued to pick up fouls guarding Hugley down low. Ultimately, both players fouled out in the final minutes of the game.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, their offensive efficiency in the second half kept them in front and even allowed them to build a lead as large as ten at 54-44 following a Kihei Clark three-pointer with seven and a half minutes remaining.
But, the Panthers would not go away easily, taking advantage of Virginia’s propensity for fouling and earning nine trips to the free throw line in the final six minutes of the game.
After a Reece Beekman layup made the score 62-54 with less than two and a half minutes to play, Femi Odukale, who had 10 points in the game, drove to the basket and scored a layup plus a foul on Caffaro, who fouled out of the game on the play. Odukale converted the three-point play to make it 62-57. Odukale went back to the same move on the next possession, this time fouling out Virginia’s other center Kadin Shedrick. Odukale made both free throws and suddenly, the Panthers found themselves trailing by just three points with 1:38 to play.
Armaan Franklin missed a three-pointer on the ensuing UVA possession and Kody Stattmann grabbed the offensive rebound, but Pitt collapsed on him and forced a held ball, giving possession back to the Panthers.
Mouhamadou Gueye then drove on Stattmann, looking to score or draw a foul to cut further into the Virginia lead as the game entered its final 60 seconds. Stattmann did well to contest Gueye’s layup attempt without fouling and Franklin snatched the defensive rebound.
Virginia ran the clock down and then Reece Beekman drove to the basket before dishing his eighth assist of the game to Franklin for an easy layup to put the Cavaliers back up by five with just 26 seconds remaining.
Odukale missed a layup on Pitt’s next possession and two free throws by Kihei Clark sealed the victory for Virginia.
After struggling in his last two games, Jayden Gardner returned to form on Wednesday night, scoring 14 points on 5/9 shooting and recording four rebounds and three assists.
Virginia was much improved in their interior offense in this game as compared to the loss against Wake Forest on Saturday. After shooting an abysmal 6/23 on layup attempts against the Demon Deacons, the Wahoos went 9/11 on layups against the Panthers and had 36 points in the paint. UVA also won the turnover battle, turning the ball over just nine times as compared to 15 turnovers for Pittsburgh and Virginia scored 21 points off of those takeaways.
Virginia still has much to work on, in particular keeping its bigs out of foul trouble, but shooting 60% from the floor in the second half on the road against the 3rd-best defense in the ACC is a significant step in the right direction.
With the win, the Cavaliers extended their winning streak over Pittsburgh to eight games and have won 15 out of the last 16 meetings. Virginia is now 11-7 overall and 5-3 in ACC play and is tied for sixth place in the ACC standings. Up next, UVA remains on the road and heads to Raleigh to face NC State on Saturday at 4pm.