CHARLOTTESVILLE – In the moments after his Virginia basketball game snapped its three-game losing streak with a Senior Night win over Miami, Tony Bennett lamented the fact that Sam Hauser never got to play in front of a true John Paul Jones Arena crowd, and remarked on just how popular the Marquette transfer would have been with the Cavaliers’ fans.
“You talk about becoming a fan favorite?” said Bennett. “I think the crowd would have appreciated (him). The fans missed out on cool experience for themselves to watch him.”
On an otherwise dismal offensive night from the home team, Hauser – one of four seniors playing their final games in Charlottesville – scored 18 points to lead No. 21 UVA to a 62-51 win, clinching a double-bye in next week’s ACC basketball tournament in Greensboro.
“Fans or no fans, we got a win tonight,” said Hauser after the game, which was played in front of about 200 family and friends of the players and staff. “My family was here to see me play. We played well as a team. I couldn’t ask for much more.”
The injury-ravaged last-place Hurricanes hung around for much of the evening, forcing Virginia to sweat out every minute.
UVA (16-6, 12-4 ACC) came in on off of road losses at Florida State and Duke and a home defeat Wednesday to North Carolina State. That slide dropped the Cavaliers into second place in the ACC and sent the once Top 10-team plummeting in the national rankings.
Monday night, Hauser’s offensive versatility helped staunch the bleeding.
“I think when the game got close, I think that’s when we really came together and showed some resilience and toughness, which we hadn’t in the last few games,” said Hauser, who sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules. “I think it was a good stepping stone for our team.”
Junior guard Trey Murphy III scored 12 points and sophomore forward Justin McKoy gave the Cavaliers a lift off the bench, scoring 8 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in 21 minutes.
That helped Virginia overcome a lackluster outing from its other senior star forward, Jay Huff. The 7-foot-1 Huff was held to 7 points, his third lowest output of the season.
Miami (7-16, 3-15), which got 14 points from guard Kameron McGusty, shot 38.5% for the game, went 4 for 15 from 3-point range and committed 11 turnovers.
UVA recognized all four of its seniors – Hauser, Huff, junior college transfer Tomas Woldetensae and walk-on Austin Katstra – in a pre-game ceremony featuring tribute videos with interviews with their families and friends. Woldetensae – who missed the previous two games due to COVID-19 contact tracing, got the start on his Senior Night and scored Virginia’s first basket, a 3-pointer 51 seconds into the contest.
But the seniors had a mostly-quiet first half outside of Hauser’s 11 points before the break.
In what figured to be a get-right game for the slumping Cavaliers, last-place Miami actually came out and took at 15-12 lead before McKoy went on a personal 6-0 run – in 1:22 – to put Virginia out front 18-15 with 10:39 left in the half.
After Miami reclaimed the edge, Virginia ended the half on a 14-2 run, sparked by a pair of 3-pointers from Hauser, to take a 41-30 lead to the locker room.
But as it has for much of the season, the Cavaliers’ pack-line defense struggled to keep the Hurricanes out of the lane. Miami scored 18 points in the paint in the first half and finished with 26 for the game.
Neither team came out hot in the second half. It took 2:31 before either squad scored, UVA finally pulling off the second-half lid from the basket when freshman guard Reece Beekman cut to the basket to score off a nifty feed from Woldetensae, putting the Cavaliers up 43-30 with 17:29 to play.
That would be Virginia’s only points in the first 7:31 of the second half, allowing Miami to pull within 43-37 before Huff hit a straightaway 3 with 12:28 to play. In all, the Cavaliers hit just four of their first 20 second-half shot attempts, allowing the Hurricanes to hang around.
A jumper by Miami guard Isaiah Wong cut Virginia’s lead to 55-49 with 3:07 to play but Virginia didn’t ever let the Hurricanes get too close. Katstra finally checked into the game with 27 seconds to play.
The Cavaliers play at Louisville on Saturday in the regular-season finale. The Cardinals have won back-to-back games heading into their road date at No. 22 Virginia Tech on Wednesday.
A year after ending the regular season on an eight-game win streak, UVA would be content to head to Greensboro off back-to-back wins this year. As for Hauser, he thinks the team can get back to the level it was playing when it won its first seven ACC games and climbed into the Top 10 of the rankings.
“I have all the confidence in the world that we can get back to that level,” said Hauser. “I know that other guys think that, too. We know how good we can be.”