LAS VEGAS (AP) Under most circumstances, Virginia would have celebrated its victory in the tournament on Sunday and brought the good feelings back to Charlottesville.
But after the No. 16 Cavaliers used a 13-point late streak to defeat the No. 19 of Illinois 70–61 to win the Continental Tire Main Event, coach Tony Bennett realized the night’s drive home would be far from joyful. as the campus is still mourning. the shooting of three players.
The Cavaliers swept No. 5 Baylor and Illini to earn the trophy.
“Right now that’s great, but now we know what’s really important,” Bennett said. “When you have such an instant holiday, it allows you to enjoy it, and it seems important, but in general it is not.”
The game was played exactly one week after football players Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Shawn Perry were fatally injured after traveling to a game in Washington. Two others were wounded.
Former Virginia football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr faces three charges of second-degree murder and other charges.
Virginia players wore slain shirts and clasped their hands in respect before playing.
On Monday, the team canceled the game against Northern Iowa, but chose to play in Las Vegas. Forward Kadin Shedrik said on Friday that being in Las Vegas has been therapeutic.
“For the community, I felt like they needed it,” said Virginia defenseman Reece Beekman, who won the tournament’s MVP after scoring 17 points. According to him, playing on Friday at home “will be hard for fans, families, football players.” We will do our best to provide support whenever we can.”
In addition to Beekman, Keehei Clark and Gardner each had 12 points for Virginia.
Jayden Epps had 14 points and Coleman Hawkins had 10 for Illini.
The Cavaliers (4-0) went down 58-56 with 3.5 minutes left as they pulled away from Illinois (4-1). The game was close throughout the match, with neither team falling behind until Virginia’s late run.
Both teams’ top scorers in Friday’s games were also mostly under control.
Armand Franklin of Virginia, who scored 26 points against Baylor, only scored nine points against Illinois.
Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. also scored nine points after he scored 29 against UCLA, winning 8 of 9 from three-point range. Shannon only did 1 of 5 on Sunday.
“Our focus was on keeping him from going to the easy, comfortable rhythm 3,” Gardner said. “I think Rhys did a good job of getting him to take difficult, controversial shots. We made life difficult for him.”
Illinois coach Brad Underwood called it a learning experience for Shannon, who started the game averaging 24.3 points and shooting 29 of 39 free throws. On Sunday, he attempted two free throws and missed both.
“Because you’re doing a lot of triples in one night, you can’t forget where the guy’s bread is buttered, and that pushes him to the limit,” Underwood said. “He has to grow out of this. We expect him to be very, very good, and we expect him to be really good. Good players don’t get days off at big games.”
Virginia became the first team in the Atlantic Coast Conference to win the tournament, now in its ninth year. The Pac-12 Conference has won three of the previous four tournaments – Arizona State in 2018, Colorado in 2019 and Arizona last year. Baylor of the Big 12 conference in 2020 was the only team from another conference in that stretch, and the Bears’ hopes of becoming the first two-time winner ended in an 86-79 loss to Virginia on Friday.
The Illinois freshmen backcourt of Epps and Sky Clark gained valuable experience during the tournament, which features all four teams. They have also shown that they can perform well against this kind of competition, which should come in handy in March. They combined for 22 points against Virginia, with Epps leading the team in scoring with 6 of 13 shots.
Virginia attempted 44 more free throws than their two tournament rivals, including 23 more than Illini (32-9). Bennett said it wouldn’t necessarily be part of the Cavaliers’ promotional strategy, but because Illinois and Baylor trade places frequently, Virginia found favorable matches that resulted in fouls.
Both teams dropped the level of competition noticeably on Friday, with Illinois hosting Lindenwood from the Ohio Valley Conference and Virginia returning home to play Maryland-East Shore of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
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