It is still only November, but so far No. 5 Virginia has been fueled by lights-out shooting rather than its trademark defense.
The Cavaliers (4-0) are averaging 79.5 points per game heading into Friday night’s meeting with Maryland Eastern Shore (2-3) in Charlottesville, Va. That total is up significantly from last season’s scoring clip of 62.4 that ranked 342nd out of 358 Division I schools.
The scoring average is noteworthy since the Cavaliers are 42-1 when scoring 80 or more points and 147-11 when scoring 70-plus under head coach Tony Bennett.
Virginia is shooting 46.9 percent from 3-point range, ranked fifth out of 363 schools this season entering play Thursday. Reece Beekman and Isaac McKneely are both shooting 50 percent (6 of 12), followed by Kihei Clark at 46.7 percent (7 of 15), Ben Vander Plas at 46.2 percent (6 of 13) and Armaan Franklin at 45.5 percent (10 of 22).
The Cavaliers knocked down 33 shots from 3-point range in their first three games before being held to 5-of-17 shooting from behind the arc in Sunday’s 70-61 victory over then-No. 19 Illinois in the championship game of the Continental Tire Main Event at Las Vegas.
Beekman scored a game-high 17 points against the Illini and was named the tournament MVP after averaging 13.5 points, 6.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals in wins against then-No. 5 Baylor and Illinois. On Monday, the junior guard was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week.
The Cavaliers’ success in Las Vegas capped a difficult week that began with the campus shooting deaths of three Virginia football players.
“We went through so many different emotions,” Beekman said, according to The Athletic. “Having all of that in the back of our minds was a real motivation. We know that the fans back home look to us for a lot of things. We want to continue to shine for them.”
Virginia vaulted 11 spots in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 and looks to avoid a letdown Friday night against the visiting Hawks from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Maryland Eastern Shore snapped a two-game losing streak with a 70-59 home victory against Marist on Tuesday in Princess Anne, Md.
The Hawks held the Red Foxes to 6-of-27 shooting (22.2 percent) from 3-point distance, an effort they will need to duplicate against red-hot Virginia. Opponents are shooting just 26.7 percent for the season from long range.
“I was excited to see our guys follow the game plan and execute versus a MAAC-level team,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said. “It’s not just a great win for our program, but a great win for our league. Any time we go against teams from what many consider an upper-level conference, it’s always good to get a win and take care of business at home.”
Nathaniel Pollard Jr. led UMES with a career-high 20 points and eight rebounds, with Da’Shawn Phillip chipping in 15 points and Chace Davis adding 10. Zion Styles, who leads the team with 12.8 points per game, had foul trouble and was held to eight points against Marist.