University of Virginia Coach Tony Bennett. Courtesy of Jon Golden.
University of Virginia Coach Tony Bennett. Courtesy of Jon Golden.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The active NCAA men’s basketball coach with the most victories in Division I was on display Saturday at John Paul Jones Arena.

That would be Jim Boeheim, the longtime head coach at Syracuse and one of the witnesses Saturday as 11th-ranked Virginia defeated the Orangemen 73-66 at John Paul Jones Arena.

Boeheim has won more than 1,000 games as the Syracuse coach, but the story Saturday was the Cavaliers’ 14-year head coach, Tony Bennett, who set a UVa record with his 327th win.

He broke a record held by Terry Holland, whose Cavalier teams were 326-173 over 16 years.

Holland has been in poor health and has not been attending games, although his wife, Ann, does.

“Terry was a great coach,” Boeheim said. “I got to be on a committee that he chaired for USA Basketball for two years, maybe more. I had many dinners with him during those committee days.

“I took over that committee, but Terry ran that committee. He was just a brilliant guy, just the nicest man I know. If not the nicest, he’s in the running and Tony is the same way. Virginia’s been lucky to get those two guys to come here and coach.”

Bennett’s move to the top of UVa’s all-time winning list had been imminent for some time.

“To be able to do it with my family and my players … the home crowd has been amazing to me,” said Bennett, who went on to praise his staff.. “That is a ‘we’ award, not a me award. I’ve got some Day Ones.

“They asked me on the ACC Network, ‘What has been a key part of that process?’ You guys [in the media] have heard me say, ‘Hire staff and then recruit players you can lose with first.’ I don’t deserve this. I didn’t even know that I wanted to coach this long or do this, but here I am.

“I kind of take a step back and say ‘wow,’ because coach Holland is the best.” 

The Cavaliers were coming off a 68-65 road loss four days earlier at Pittsburgh, where they led by 13 points in the first half and finished with 11 turnovers.

“We played a really good 20 minutes of basketball,” Bennett said of the Pittsburgh game. “Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I thought we defended well and played good offense in the first half [at Pitt] but what will that get you? Nothing.

“When you get maybe exposed like that, it always makes you recommit and say, ‘How can we do this? How can we tighten the screws in the areas we need to and give us the best chance to have success?’

“Syracuse was 3-1 and it’s a better league. I don’t pay attention to what they’re saying, but it’s better than last year.”

Five Virginia players scored in double figures Saturday, including a freshman, 6-foot-5 Isaac McKneely from Poca, W.Va., who was 4-for-7 from the field, with all his shots coming from 3-point range and beyond.

“I told him, ‘Take the parking brake off,’ ” Bennett said. “We needed that. We went with a little tighter rotation and he’s going in the right direction.”

The Cavaliers were led by Armann Franklin, who connected on four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points and six rebounds from his spot on the wing.

Fifth-year guard Kihei Clark is averaging a team-leading 11.4 points on 160 points in 14 games for the Cavaliers. Franklin has scored 159 points and Jayden Gardner has 158 points in the same number of games.

Maybe the Cavaliers’ toughest test to date will come Tuesday at 9 p.m., when they play host to a North Carolina team that is coming off an 81-64 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday at Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are 8-0 at home but are 0-3 on the road.

Doug Doughty

Doug Doughty has been writing for more than 50 years starting as a high school student in Washington, D.C., through his undergraduate years at the University of Virginia, and 47 years at the Roanoke Times...