CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)He was the smallest player on the court – as usual – but Virginia point guard Kihei Clark’s two plays in a span of 16 seconds provided a huge lift against Albany.
With Virginia leading 27-24 in a back-and-forth game, the 5-foot-10 Clark stole the ball from Malik Edmead near half court and drove for a layup. As Edmead brought the ball up again, Clark did it again, his thievery waking a nervous crowd.
”You just don’t see that when a guy gets a steal. Once a guy picks your pocket, when you get peeled, you’re like, `OK, … no more,”’ coach Tony Bennett, himself a former point guard, said after No. 13 Virginia rolled to a 66-46 victory Wednesday night.
”The crowd finally woke up,” said Jayden Gardner, who scored 16 points. ”That was the turn of the game that they woke up and we got into the game and brought life.”
Albany coach Dwayne Killings, thrilled with how his team had played to that point, saw it all go away in a flash.
”It gave them the momentum that they needed and they never looked back,” he said. ”And I thought that really crushed our spirit because I thought we had, you know, a lot of really good energy, good plays. I thought we had really good belief, and I thought that just really crushed us.”
Armaan Franklin scored 20 points and Clark finished with eight points and 10 assists for Virginia (9-2), which was coming off losses at home to Houston and on the road to Miami that sent it tumbling from the No. 2 spot in the AP Top 25. The Cavaliers went on a 30-4 run spanning the halves to pull away in their final nonconference game.
Virginia played without starting guard Reece Beekman, who is battling a right hamstring injury, likely with an eye toward having him ready for Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference game at Georgia Tech. Beekman played in the losses.
”We need Reece is close to 100 percent as possible and it just I think it’s improving. It just didn’t feel quite right. We decided, let’s give him a full week and then re-evaluate,” Bennett said. ”A hamstring pull or different things can take a little while, so we’ve got to be as smart as we can and and just respond and read how he’s feeling and keep giving great rehab and then rest.”
Da’Kquan Davis led the Great Danes (5-10) with 11 points. They shot 31% overall (16 of 52).
The Cavaliers trailed 24-22 before scoring the final 11 points of the opening half. Virginia added the first seven points after halftime, holding Albany scoreless over 8:43.
Gardner’s free throw put Virginia ahead 52-28 with 8:52 remaining, and Albany never got closer than 20 points from there.
ANYTHING YOU CAN DO …
Virginia fired up its defense-loving crowd by forcing a shot clock violation with 3:40 left in the first half, but on the Cavaliers’ ensuing possession, they also failed to hit the rim.
Virginia forced another violation after halftime, giving it 10 for the season, and the Great Danes had numerous other possessions end with desperate heaves.
Albany: The Great Danes’ quickness and ball movement bothered Virginia at times, especially with the Cavaliers missing Beekman, their best defender.
Virginia: Bennett shook up his starting lineup, inserting freshman guard Isaac McKneely in Beekman’s spot and Ben Vander Plas at forward for Kadin Shedrick. Shedrick entered the game within two minutes, however, when Vander Plas was quickly whistled for a foul.
Albany: Hosts New Hampshire on Saturday.
Virginia: At Georgia Tech on Saturday.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25