On Sunday afternoon, the #16 Virginia Cavalier men’s basketball team took down the #19 Illinois Fighting Illini to win the Continental Tire Main Event from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and move to 4-0 on the season.
Both teams looked very strong throughout the first half and kept things close, as the largest lead for either team during the half was only four points. Following a very physical and close half of basketball, the Hoos and Illinois went into the locker room at the half with the Illini holding a slim 31-29 lead.
Virginia started the second half off strong, taking a 33-31 lead after one minute thanks to a dunk from Jayden Gardner and two free throws from Kadin Shedrick. The two teams played tough basketball throughout the second half, but Virginia was able to hold onto their lead for most of the half despite never leading by more than six points. An almost three-minute Virginia scoring drought allowed Illinois to tie the game at 55 with 5 minutes left in the game. The two teams would then go back and forth, with the lead changing four times in the next two minutes. Illinois took a 58-56 lead with 3:27 remaining, but the Hoos dominated the rest of the contest, ending the game on a 14-3 run to win 70-61.
Reece Beekman led the Cavaliers with 17 points, shooting 5/12 from the field and 1/3 from the three point line. This performance, combined with his strong showing against Baylor on Friday night, earned him the honor of tournament MVP. Jayden Gardner and Kihei Clark also excelled for UVA, as both put up 12 points. For the game, Gardner shot 3/5 from the field, and Clark shot 4/9 from the field and 2/4 from beyond the arc. Ben Vander Plas contributed as well for the Hoos off the bench, making 8 of 9 free throws and securing a team-high 10 rebounds. Illinois was led by Freshman Jayden Epps, playing 27 minutes off the bench and putting up 14 points. Coleman Hawkins also contributed for the Illini, scoring 10 points. Ultimately, free throws were what made the difference in the game, as Virginia went 25/32 from the charity stripe compared to only 4/9 from Illinois.
This win, combined with a win in the first round of the tournament against #5 Baylor, was enough to propel Virginia to #5 in this week’s AP poll. Following a tragic week at UVA, the men’s basketball team played hard, giving the Charlottesville community something to come together and root for. Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry were honored by the basketball team before the game, as the players locked arms and observed a moment of silence in tribute. Virginia also wore “UVA STRONG” shooting shirts in warm-ups and patches on their jerseys with the numbers 1, 15, and 41 during the game.
After the game, Coach Tony Bennett reflected on the tragic events that rocked the Charlottesville community last week, saying that winning the game “feels great in the moment, but more so now, we know what truly matters.” Bennett also said that “when you have a momentary celebration like this … it seems to matter, but in the big picture, it doesn’t.”
Virginia will look to carry their momentum and continue their emotional season as they return home on Friday to take on Maryland Eastern Shore at 6 PM at John Paul Jones Arena.