The last time Armaan Franklin played in New Jersey, he was held scoreless and injured in Indiana’s road loss at Rutgers on Feb. 24. It was the only game last season when Franklin didn’t score a point.
Monday night, Franklin — now at Virginia — was back in the Garden State. Things went much better.
Franklin scored 23 points, equaling his career high, and grabbed six rebounds as UVa pulled away from Georgia late for a 65-55 win in the Legends Classic semifinals in Newark, N.J.
Most impressively, he did it without much success from the 3-point line, the bread-and-butter of his offensive game.
“At the end of the day, you can’t just rely on that one thing,” said Franklin, who was 1 for 7 from beyond the arc Monday. “I think I’m able to get to the basket sometimes and also use the md-range as a weapon as well. So, just not always relying on the 3-point shot when it’s not falling.”
Against the Bulldogs, Franklin scored on mid-range jumpers and drives to the lane and worked hard on the defensive end, especially on the glass. He had three steals to go with his six defensive boards.
“He shot the pull-up. He got to the rim,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “He showed some completeness.”
Virginia got 12 points from senior point guard Kihei Clark, and senior forward Jayden Gardner added 11 points and six rebounds.
Sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick was held to just 3 points and played the second half in foul trouble, but Shedrick impacted the game with seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
The Cavaliers (3-2) will face Providence in the classic’s title game Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The Friars (5-0) held off Northwestern (4-1), 77-72, on Monday in the second semifinal.
Franklin came out hot, scoring Virginia’s first 9 points of the game on the way to his biggest night since transferring from Indiana.
“We knew he would be a tough matchup because of how aggressive he is, how well he attacks the rim,” said Georgia coach Tom Crean.
Crean had recruited Franklin while Crean was coaching at Indiana and Franklin was starring at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.
“I love Armaan Franklin,” said Crean. “We tried like crazy to recruit him. He’s a fantastic player. I always felt he could be an NBA guard at some point.”
Franklin scored Virginia’s first 9 points, giving it its first lead at 9-6 on a 3-pointer with 14:39 left in the half. He then fueled an 11-0 run, scoring 9 of those points, and helping the Cavaliers build a 13-6 lead with 13:34 to play before the break.
“I was just taking what the defense was giving me. They just happened to go in,” said Franklin. “Whatever they were giving me, I was taking.”
Georgia answered with a 12-5 run to tie the game 20-20 with 8:29 left in the half.
The Bulldogs led 34-31 at the half, ending the stanza on a 9-2 run that included drawing foul on a final-play heave. Francisco Caffaro challenged Jaxon Etter’s long shot at the buzzer. Etter came down into Caffaro, who was whistled for the foul.
Etter hit two of his three free throws.
The call against Caffaro would be significant later in the game. Caffaro, Gardner and Shedrick — UVa’s three post players — all had three fouls on them with 11:34 to play. A minute later, Caffaro and Shedrick had their fourth, leaving the Cavaliers in a precarious frontcourt position the rest of the night.
Despite that, Virginia used a turnover-fueled 6-0 run to open a 53-48 lead with 4:57 to play. But the Cavaliers went cold late in the game, hitting just one of seven shots in one stretch as Georgia pulled within a basket.
The win wasn’t the only encouraging sign for Virginia. After struggling with turnovers through its first four games this season — it committed 54 in those contests, an average of 13 per game — it turned the ball over just four times Monday night.
“Still some errors but closer to what it’s going to take,” Bennett said.
On defense, the Cavaliers continue to use their length and athleticism to be disruptive, forcing 15 turnovers. That and Shedrick’s continued emergence as a shot-blocker has UVA rounding into form defensively.
Virginia still struggled with its outside shooting, going 5 for 20 from 3-point range. Franklin, despite his big point total, wasn’t exempt from those issues. He went just 1 for 7 on his 3s, but scored effectively on an array of midrange jumpers.
Georgia’s Jabri Abdur-Rahim, who transferred to the Bulldogs program from UVA after last season, got his second career start Monday night, against his old team. He scored 4 points and had four rebounds in 27 minutes.
But on this night in New Jersey, it was the transfer who joined Virginia who stole the show.