Those orange-and-navy clad spectators filling the seats inside John Paul Jones Arena for the first time in nearly two years were just waiting for their chance to burst loudly in joy.
They never got the chance, though, as visiting Navy upset No. 25 Virginia 66-58 on Tuesday night in Charlottesville.
The Midshipmen (1-0) took the lead six minutes into the first half and never trailed again. Virginia (0-1) came all the way back to tie the game at 55, but Navy scored nine straight in the final few minutes — highlighted by John Carter Jr.’s 3 with 24 seconds left — to seal the victory.
UVa is now 11-2 in openers under coach Tony Bennett.
Here are three takeaways from UVa’s season-opening loss:
Difference in 3s
Navy led for the majority of the first half thanks to its ability to sink 3-pointers.
The Midshipmen made contested 3s, 3s in transition and shots from all different spots beyond the arc to build their lead. They were 8-of-12 from 3 in the first half while paced by guards Carter Jr. and Sean Yoder. In the opening 20 minutes, Carter Jr. was 4-of-4 from long range and Yoder was 3-of-3 on his 3-point tries.
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In the second half, the story was different, but not different enough to change the outcome.
UVa tightened up its perimeter defense and held Navy to 3-of-9 shooting from 3 as the Cavaliers plotted their come-from-behind effort.
Carter Jr.’s dagger, though, finished off the Cavaliers.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, UVa was 4-of-16 from 3 which included Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin’s 1-of-7 performance. Franklin led the Hoosier in 3-point percentage last season.
Half of Navy’s points came from 3 in its win while Virginia only had 12 points to show from its four made 3rs.
Gardner fits well
Virginia’s first four points on Tuesday night were from East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner, who started and starred in his debut with the Cavaliers.
The former two-time All-American Athletic Conference team selection appears to be a good fit with his new team.
He finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Cavaliers with a double-double.
Gardner tallied eight of UVa’s first 16 points and displayed an ability to finish around the rim while doing so. He was 3-for-3 from the field to start the game with all of those points coming in the paint. His explosiveness was evident, too, when he used his 6-foot-6, 246-pound frame to power past challenging defenders only to leave them frustrated as the ball went through the bottom of the net.
Twice Gardner stepped out from around the rim to knock down mid-range jumpers. And in critical second-half moments, he scored on a tip-in after an offensive rebound and then made a hook shot to cut UVa’s deficit to 53-51.
The Cavaliers turned the ball over 14 times, and Navy scored 22 points off of those turnovers.
What was particularly discouraging for UVa was that of its 14 turnovers, half of them came in the second half when it was trying to finish off a comeback.
Gardner had five turnovers while Kihei Clark, Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro each had two in the loss.