When Beekman was Dunn, Clark Downed the Molson

It was a "beautiful" struggle where one hero fell and a new one arose. Now we await the last titanic struggle before conference play

Please tell me I am not the only one who said, "Oh shit," when he saw Reece Beekman lay sprawled atop a person on the endline then jump up and hobble down the court. I immediately began grumbling, "This is why I was hoping Reece wouldn't play tonight."

The most important variable from the game, of course, is the health of Beekman. I think we saw the difference he makes in the level of our team's play. He has become our best player and the catalyst on both sides of the ball. If he cannot get healthy, if the ankle/hamstring disorder is going to hamper him all season, the team's ceiling drops dramatically. We can beat the JMUs and middling ACC teams without him, but we're not beating a Houston or good ACC team without him. Any hope this team has of making the third weekend of the NCAA involves a healthy Reece Beekman.

Without Reece, it was a grind, but grind is what Tony Bennett teams do best. And before we put too much stock into the final margin, had Virginia not had a truly abysmal night at the free throw line (was there something in the global gravity field? Wisconsin had the same performance), this would have been a double-digit cruise.

But the Hoos were atrocious at the line and it was a nailbiter, and it very easily could have been a loss if not for timely contributions from freshman Ryan Dunn.

Indeed, Dunn's stat line of 4 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots merely hints at his impact - although one would argue that 5 rebounds and 3 blocks are high impact numbers. Still, both his buckets were highlights and the second one was critical. It made the game a two-possession game late. It was also notable for the decision. It was a smart basketball play. It was also a confident offensive move, that I liked to see. I also liked his three-point attempts even though he did not make them. I like to see players take shots. With Ryan you can see the seeds of a good offensive performer, but at this point in his career they are just that: seeds. He is a long way from being more than a role player on the offensive end. Next year is promising.

On defense he reminds me of Justin Anderson. He struggled with Molson and often looked exactly like what he is: a true freshman in December. Molson was a grown-ass man with GAM game. In Dunn's favor, though, we had nobody who could guard him and Dunn fared no worse than anyone else. In the end, when the game was on the line, Dunn defended Molson perfectly and goaded the veteran into a turnover. Dunn, like Anderson, will make mistakes and get beat, but has the natural ability (physical and mental) to recover and erase mistakes with a great play. However, Dunn is a freshman and Anderson was a junior. I see Dunn being the next great Virginia forward defender.

This is the second game I've watched where RD impressed the hell out of me. After the first one, I put him in my favorite five. Subsequent games tempered that premature exuberance. My more tempered evaluation is that Dunn is going to be the dash of youth in the stew that brings out the flavor of the veteran ingredients. Being on the floor at the end of a tight game was great experience for him - and for Isaac McKneely.

At one point in the game, McKneely's struggles made me chuckle and remark wryly to my audience (myself) that "Young Ike is learning that college basketball ain't high school. Young man needs to start hitting shots, but more importantly, he needs to keep taking them, and he needs to let the threes fly. Several times he had the chance to pull the trigger but decided to put the ball on the deck. I don't care if the kid shoots 10 threes or goes 1-10. He's The Next Kyle Guy. Shoot that ball, young buck! It was fun watching him play. He's completely overmatched right now, but he gets in the stance and gets after it, and the stroke is pure and quick. He's going to get there, and the ONLY positive from Beekman's injury was the great experience McKneely got.

The Dukes were not a good matchup for Ben Vander Plas, who struggled. Two turnovers and 1-4 shooting pretty well reflect his offensive contribution. He was out-quicked no matter who he was up against, and the Dukes did a great job of pressuring the ball and fronting the post, making it difficult to get the ball into the mismatches. They attacked his dribble effectively and took that part of his game away. He did have 5 rebounds.

With Beekman out, Vander Plas neutralized and Kadin Shedrick rocked in the face again, it was a "thank God that Kihei and Jayden came back" night. You could see "I ain't losing to JMU again, no effing way!" all over Gardner's face late in the game, and "Hell no!" in his game. Kihei was Kihei: taking control, taking on everyone, and ready to do whatever was needed. James Madison was an opponent susceptible to their dominance: lacking a big interior presence or point guard who could prevent Jayden and Kihei from being the best players on the floor. As most ACC teams share those characteristics, Virginia is going to be a tough out even with another key player being unavailable for whatever reason.

Incidentally, for those who were keeping score, the Hoos shot 24 free throws against 45 field goal attempts for a 53% Free Throw rate (FTr), matching that season average I gushed over in my previous article. Had they made them at their pre-JMU season average of 73.5%, they would have scored 5 more points and won comfortably. They nearly lost the game at the free throw line.

Final thought: The game strongly resembled an NCAA tournament first-round game, a 3-14 game as one Twitter responder said. Good practice for March. On the 17th we find out how this team might fare in the Final Four.

Seattle Hoo
December 7, 2022