CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Led by Jayden Gardner (16 points) and Reece Beekman (14 points, 6 assists, 4 steals), Virginia (20-13) knocked off third-seeded Mississippi State (18-16) 60-57 in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) at John Paul Jones Arena Wednesday night (March 16).
With the win, the Cavaliers tallied their 10th 20-win season under head coach Tony Bennett. Virginia also improved to 18-11 all-time in NIT contests, including an 8-4 mark in first round games.
Beekman’s game-high four steals moved him to No. 1 all-time on UVA’s single-season steals list. Beekman, now with 70 steals on the season, passed Othell Wilson, who notched 69 takeaways during the 1983-84 season.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Donning their navy blue uniforms as the designated visiting team, the Cavaliers led for 19:24 of game time and held a 27-19 lead at the break. Virginia’s nine-point lead at intermission tied for its largest of the game. The Cavaliers’ defense stifled MSU to start the game, forcing six turnovers in the first six minutes of play – three of which were backcourt violations. Virginia’s defense also did not allow the Bulldogs to score back-to-back field goals at any point during the opening half. Francisco Caffaro and Beekman led the Cavaliers’ effort with eight points each in the first 20 minutes of play. Both teams combined to shoot 0-for-8 from 3-point range in the first half.
After shooting 40 percent from the field in the first half, Mississippi State made its first seven shots of the second half and grasped its first lead of the game, 34-32, at the 15:15 mark before UVA signaled for time. Momentum swung back in UVA’s favor after Taine Murray came off the bench, pulled down a defensive rebound and made a layup in transition to cap 12-2 Virginia run. After not making a single 3-point shot for the first 32:15 of play, the Bulldogs drained four shots from deep in a five-minute span. Mississippi State’s fourth 3-pointer cut Virginia’s lead to 54-53 with 2:44 to play. Then, the Cavaliers went on a 6-0 run, which was sparked by a corner three from Armaan Franklin. After the Bulldogs intentionally fouled to stall the clock, the Cavaliers missed their final three free throws of the game, which allowed MSU one last attempt to tie the score, but the Bulldogs’ final shot was off the mark as time expired.
THE GAME BALL GOES TO:
Reece Beekman. With 14 points, Beekman registered his 12th double-digit scoring performance of the season. He shot 5-of-7 from the field and was 4-for-5 at the charity stripe. Beekman posted a game-high four steals, including three takeaways in the second half. In addition to setting the program’s single-season steals record, Beekman also accepted the tall task of guarding Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar, a 2022 First Team All-SEC selection. Molinar finished with 13 points, but had five turnovers, three of which came at the hands of Beekman in the second half.
Virginia faces two-seeded North Texas (25-6) in Denton, Texas on either Saturday or Sunday. The Mean Green defeated Texas State 67-63 in overtime on Tuesday evening.