Saint Francis walked into a bad situation Tuesday afternoon, having to face a very good Virginia team that was coming off a very frustrating loss.
The Cavaliers took their frustrations out on the Red Flash in a 76-51 blowout that wasn’t even that close in Charlottesville, Va. Virginia was No. 4 in the country last week before collapsing late in a 61-60 contest against San Francisco, which dropped the Cavaliers to No. 15 this week.
Virginia scored the game’s first eight points and destroyed Saint Francis in the first half, 45-13. The Cavaliers took it easy in the second half, and the Flash actually won the half, 38-31, to make the final score a little more respectable.
Saint Francis coach Rob Krimmel said what happened in the first half wasn’t a huge surprise, given the circumstances.
“Not really,” Krimmel said. “I mean, I knew that they were going to come out (strong). It’s their home opener. … They have a lot of pride, obviously, in this program in Virginia, the reigning national champs.”
Saint Francis upset Pitt last week, so certainly Virginia coach Tony Bennett made sure his players were aware of that. When you have a victory like that, it makes it impossible to sneak up on anyone, and that’s something this Saint Francis team will have to deal with.
It’s also dealing with playing without one of its best players in point guard Ramiir Dixon-Conover, who injured his ankle the last time out and missed most of the second half of a home loss to UMBC.
As Krimmel pointed out, Saint Francis had been in this kind of situation before as a program, going into a game at Duke in 2017 after the Blue Devils had just lost a game.
“We had a situation like this a couple years back where we played Louisville pretty well, had them down under the four-minute timeout we were within two possessions,” Krimmel said. “Then a couple of weeks later we went to Duke after they had come off a performance where they hadn’t played very well and ran into a very motivated team.”
In that Duke game, Saint Francis fell behind, 26-5, and got clobbered, 124-67, at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Tuesday against Virginia was much the same, as the Cavaliers came out with tons of frustration and took it to the visitors.
“I really was pleased with our first half of playing,” Bennett said. “Now, St. Francis, they were without their key guard, and that when he played well, that’s how they beat Pitt. So that was a big blow to them and I’m always realistic.
“But we played really good basketball defensively and offensively in the first half. And we got on the glass, as you mentioned. We touched the paint, scored in the paint and offensive rebounds, so that that was good to see, and just moved in, tried to do what we could. So I think that was a step in the right direction, in the first half. Second half, not so much, but first half.”
Saint Francis has never gone up against a defense as good as Virginia’s, which year in and year out stifles opponents with its pack-line concept. The Red Flash never got anything going early, although they did have more success in the second half when things were already in hand.
“They’re the best defensive team that I’ve ever played against, coached against,” Krimmel said. “They’re just so disciplined, they’re so physical, they’re so long and the numbers bear it out. You think you have an open look, and they can close gaps so quickly.
“If you hit them with one play, they know how to take you out of it the next time,” Krimmel added
Bryce Laskey led Saint Francis with 12 points, while Mark Flagg added 11 and Myles Thompson nine.
Jay Huff led Virginia with 13 points, and Marquette transfer Sam Hauser had 11. No Virginia starter played more than 23 minutes as Bennett played reserves a good bit of the second half.