CHARLOTTESVILLE – Having played most of a season of college basketball now, Virginia freshman Isaac McKneely confidently declared that his team’s home court – John Paul Jones Arena – is among the most daunting for visiting teams.
JPJ gets loud in big spots and roars when the UVa defense is closing in on a shot-clock violation. But, McKneely said, nothing compares to the deafening noise from the fans when an opposing player shoots second-half free throws.
A promotion at the arena gives all fans in attendance a certificate for free bacon if an opponent misses consecutive free throws.
“This is one of the best college basketball arenas I’ve been to,” McKneely said. “Playing at these other ACC arenas, there’s some good ones, for sure, but the atmosphere here is just insane. Especially on the free throws, when we get the bacon. That just cracks me up.”
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Salty meat products not withstanding, playing at home has been a huge advantage for the Cavaliers, who are 14-1 there this season. Its only loss came to No. 1 Houston.
They’ve won all nine of their ACC home games going into Saturday’s regular-season finale against Louisville. With a win, Virginia will earn a share of the ACC regular-season title and the No. 2 seed in next week's conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
“Having this home crowd is like having a 5-point advantage, almost,” McKneely said. “When we’re getting turnovers and getting buckets and the crowd’s getting into it, it makes the other team in shambles.”
Virginia is 86-13 in ACC games at JPJ the past 11 seasons, the best mark in the conference during that time. Duke, which went 16-0 at Cameron Indoor this season, is second at 84-15.
“Our fans have appreciated how our guys are trying to compete,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “We’re far from perfect. I know. But the fans I think appreciate good hardnosed play and kids not quitting, and doing it the right way. So, they’ve given us a great lift.”
They’ll get one more chance to do that Saturday, when the Cavaliers’ host last-place Louisville. It will be the final home game for the team’s seniors, led by fifth-year point guard Kihei Clark. No. 13 UVa (22-6, 14-5 ACC) will recognize Clark, guard Armaan Franklin and some combination of center Francisco Caffaro, forwards Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas and guard Chase Coleman.
A school spokesman said Wednesday the list of who was participating had not yet been finalized.
Caffaro, Coleman and Franklin all have the option of playing one more season of college basketball, either at Virginia or elsewhere. A source confirmed Franklin will take part in Saturday’s ceremony, though he’s made no decision about his final season of eligibility.
Mike Barber (804) 649-6546
@RTD_MikeBarber on Twitter