By Jeff White (

RALEIGH, N.C. — The University of Virginia men’s basketball team got back to Charlottesville on Saturday night, closing the book on its latest road trip. Another one looms, and in six days the Cavaliers will board their buses again and head back to North Carolina, this time for a game against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.

With no midweek game on the schedule, head coach Tony Bennett and his staff have ample time to examine what went right and what went wrong in UVA’s 76-60 loss to ACC rival NC State at PNC Arena.

In each of the Wahoos’ first two road games of the season, horrendous starts put them in holes out of which they were unable to climb. Virginia lost 77-54 at Memphis and 76-54 at Notre Dame.

The Hoos’ game in Raleigh unfolded differently Saturday afternoon. With 7:25 left in the first half, Virginia (11-4 overall, 2-2 ACC) led the Wolfpack by four.

“We talked about getting off to a better start, and I thought there was some progress in that first 15 minutes or wherever it was,” Bennett said. “So I thought we were sound, we were tough, took care of the ball, made it a little more difficult on them to get some shots.”

Then NC State freshman Dennis Parker Jr. hit a desperation 3-pointer from near midcourt as the shot clock expired, and everything changed.

“That was certainly a momentum swing,” Bennett said. “I’m not going to say that if he wouldn’t have made that, it would have been a different story, but you felt the swing and then you could see it, you could feel it a little bit, because it happened quick.”

Parker’s shot awakened not only his team, but the home fans in the crowd of 14,821. Virginia turned the ball over at the other end, and State scored to take a 20-19 lead. UVA went up 21-20 on a jumper by swingman Andrew Rohde, but its lead proved fleeting. NC State went into intermission on a 15-7 run, scored the first six points of the second half and wasn’t seriously threatened thereafter. The Pack led by 21 with five minutes to play.

“We’ve just got to figure out on the road how we can stick together,” said UVA forward Ryan Dunn, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

The 16 points were a career high for the 6-foot-8 Dunn, and the rebounds and blocks were team highs Saturday.

The Cavaliers, 9-0 at John Paul Jones Arena this season, are 0-3 on the road and 2-1 at neutral sites. Their other defeat was a 24-point loss to Wisconsin at the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida.

As deflating as it was for the Hoos to see Parker’s prayer answered Saturday, they “have to be able to handle that,” Bennett said.

Virginia guard Isaac McKneely agreed. “The crowd’s obviously gonna get into it when a shot goes down like that,” he said, “so we’ve got to stay together. We were still up one at that point. So we just got to figure out a way to bring our mentality and bring our own energy on the road. Of course we can play well at JPJ with the fans behind us. But we’ve got to figure it out on the road and figure out a way to win. We’re a young team and we’ve got some growing pains. So hopefully here soon we’ll figure it out.”

Reece Beekman

Bennett started a senior (guard Reece Beekman), a freshman (center Blake Buchanan) and three sophomores (Dunn, Rohde and McKneely) against NC State (11-3, 3-0). Of that group, only Beekman and McKneely played significant minutes for the Cavaliers last season. Buchanan was in high school, Rohde was at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, and Dunn was a reserve on a UVA team that earned a share of the ACC’s regular-season title.

“We talked about after the game that when you’re playing well, it’s easy,” Bennett said Saturday. “Your highs can be as high as you want, but a step for us as a team is when we’re struggling a little bit, you can’t let your lows get you so low. You just figure out ways to kind of stop the bleeding [and limit] the big runs.

“There’s some breakdowns that we have that are hard to overcome. Again, our inexperience certainly does show, and this is not a year in this league to be inexperienced. I think there’s good veteran teams and you gotta be ready. But we’ll keep working at it.”

When the Cavaliers fall behind away from JPJ, Bennett said, “I think we sometimes get discouraged. And then it unravels quickly if we’re missing shots. And then when our defense gives up some easy buckets, it gets tough.”

Virginia never led against Memphis or Notre Dame. McKneely scored the game’s first points Saturday, hitting the first of his four treys, and the Cavaliers were well-positioned for much of the first half. But they came unglued in a hurry.

“Sometimes when we get rattled we either go too quick or we don’t take the stuff that’s in front of us,” Bennett said.

The Cavaliers steadied themselves and pushed back in the last five minutes. Seldom-used big man Jordan Minor, a transfer from Merrimack, scored six points, Dunn hit a 3-pointer and a layup, and McKneely made his final trey.

“I thought it was good that we were able to fight back a little bit,” McKneely said, “but I feel like there was a turning point in the game, where they hit some shots and we couldn’t score, that just blew it out.”

Isaac McKneely

McKneely led the Cavaliers with 18 points, and Beekman contributed a double-double (12 points and 10 assists).

After a four-game stretch in which he was 8 for 34 from the floor, McKneely has shined in his past two outings. He also scored 18 points Wednesday in Virginia’s win over Louisville at JPJ.

“I think I’ve just become more confident,” McKneely said. “The Notre Dame game and the Memphis game, I wasn’t as confident as I should be, and the coaches just told me to shoot them when they’re there and be aggressive and hunt my shots.”

Bennett said he liked that McKneely “was assertive, because we need him to look to score in his way, and I thought Reece played really well, because that young man”—Jayden Taylor, a transfer from Butler—”put the heat on him, and he’s one of the better on-ball defenders I’ve seen this year.”

McKneely was 4 for 7 and Dunn was 1 for 2 from 3-point range Saturday. The other Cavaliers, however, were a combined 0 for 6.

The Wolfpack had no such problems from beyond the arc. Six State players made at least one 3-pointer apiece. As a team, the Pack was 10 for 28 from 3-point range against a UVA defense that struggled with post traps and close-outs.

“If you don’t get it right [on defense], they’re going to get a good shot and they’re going to score,” Dunn said. “It’s one or the other.”

In the third of seven straight Saturday road games for the Cavaliers, they’ll meet Wake Forest (11-3, 3-0) next weekend at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. The 2 p.m. game will air on ESPN2.

The Demon Deacons, who defeated visiting Miami 86-82 in overtime Saturday afternoon, play at Florida State on Tuesday night.

The Hoos have won 10 of their past 11 games with the Deacs, who lead the series 71-70.

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Tony Bennett