CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Defending national champion Virginia is still unbeaten, but now has a significant loss to contend with.
Braxton Key, a starting guard and perhaps the Cavaliers’ most versatile player, watched from the bench with a sling on his surgically repaired wrist on Wednesday as Virginia (7-0) put up a record-tying defensive performance in a 46-26 victory over Maine.
The Black Bears matched the fewest points scored by a Cavaliers opponent under Bennett, and the fewest in the shot-clock era (since 1985-86).
“If ever there was a team that has to be hungry to defend no matter how hard it is, ... it’s us,” Bennett said.
Especially now with Key, the team’s No. 2 scorer and top rebounder, sidelined with no timetable for his return.
Key was injured in the final minutes of Virginia’s 48-45 victory over Arizona State in the Air Force Reserve Tip-off championship game when he drove to the basket and came down on his hand. Bennett had no information on whether Key broke any bones.
“Obviously that’s a tough blow because he brings some heart and effort on the glass and energy defensively,” Bennett said.
Mamadi Diakite scored 15 points and Jay Huff had 13 to lead the Cavaliers, who were also without starting guard Kody Stattmann, who missed his fourth consecutive game with an undisclosed illness. The Cavaliers also struggled offensively, making just 17 of 44 shots (38.6%).
Maine (2-4) kept it close for much of the game, more because Virginia had trouble scoring than anything else.
Vilgot Larsson led the Black Bears with nine points. They finished 8 for 43 from the field (18.6%) and had 21 turnovers. Their 26 points tied Rutgers for the fewest scored against the Cavaliers under Bennett. Virginia beat Rutgers 45-26 on Nov. 29, 2014.
Nonetheless, Maine coach Richard Barron could not find fault with his team’s effort.
“They battled. They just battled,” he said, “and we just couldn’t make shots.”
Virginia held Maine scoreless for nearly six minutes and used a 9-0 run to open a 24-10 lead late in the first half. It was 24-14 at the break, and eight consecutive points early in the second half opened the margin to 35-19 as Bennett went deeper into his bench seeking combinations the Cavaliers will need going forward.
The Cavaliers have now held six of seven opponents this season under 50 points.
Maine: In his second season as coach, Richard Barron has an exceedingly young team and an ambitious opening schedule that has already included Washington and takes the Black Bears to UConn on Sunday. Ten players on the roster are freshmen, redshirt freshmen or redshirt sophomores.
Virginia: After scoring 19 points against Arizona State in the championship game of the Air Force Reserve Tip-off Tournament, freshman Casey Morsell seemed ready to give Virginia’s struggling offense a lift. But Morsell went cold again at John Paul Jones Arena, finishing 1 of 8 from the field.
Barron was choked up, having spent time a few moments with former Virginia coach Terry Holland and his wife after the game.
“Big mentor to me,” he said. “Just hugging their necks and talking to them was a special moment for me.”
Barron said his family got to know Holland when his father and Holland both worked at Davidson.
In 1984, Barron came to a Virginia basketball camp, contracted mononucleosis and “spent the week on the Hollands’ couch.”
Barron later worked at the Virginia camp for the duration of Holland’s career, then for Jeff Jones, and then one year with Pete Gillen.
Maine plays at UConn on Sunday.
Virginia goes on the road and faces Purdue in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, a rematch of last year’s epic Elite Eight overtime game.