CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Jayden Gardner scored 26 points and nearly matched Maryland-Eastern Shore's point total in the first half Friday night as No. 5 Virginia beat the Hawks 72-45 in its first home game since three football players were killed 12 days ago.
The Cavaliers wore shirts with “UVA Strong” and the players’ numbers on the front, along with the players’ last names on the back, as they had for their tournament in Las Vegas. The crowd also observed a moment of silence before the game.
“The moment of silence we took before the game, it just tears you up,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
The Cavaliers (5-0) led 40-22 at halftime, with Gardner accounting for 18 of those points and Kadin Shedrick, their other most prominent low-post player adding nine. Shedrick finished with 13 with Bennett substituting liberally over the final 10 minutes.
"The guys did a really good job of finding him and he did a good job of sealing and slowing down," Bennett said of Gardner, who led Virginia is scoring last season with 15.3 points but came in averaging just 7.8. “When he's aggressive but not rushing, that's when he's at his best."
“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just going to keep playing together and we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said.
Maryland-Eastern Shore (2-4), of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, actually had a 14-12 run in the middle of the opening half to get within 30-18, but Gardner scored 12 of the Cavaliers last 14 points before the intermission. The Hawks also allowed 24 points in the paint and 14 points off their 10 first-half turnovers. Virginia led 20-4 after 7 1/2 minutes.
“We really struggled to score the basketball the first 4 minutes of the game,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said. “Probably set the tone for them. You know, we just came out flat, didn’t execute.”
Nathaniel Pollard Jr. scored nine and Ahamadou Fofana eight for the Hawks.
Virginia entered the game leading the nation in free throws made per game (22.5) and free throw attempts per game (30.5), fifth in 3-point shooting (46.9%), 11th in assist to turnover ratio (1.72) and 19th in turnovers per game (10.0).
Maryland-Eastern Shore: The Hawks had no answer for Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last year (15.3 ppg) but came into the game averaging just 7.8 points. He was 9 for 12 in the first half, with all his shots coming from in close, and finished 12 of 15.
Virginia: The Cavaliers probably appreciated a breather after hard-fought wins against No. 7 Baylor and No. 16 Illinois in winning the Continental Tire Main Event tournament in Las Vegas earlier in the week and with a game at Michigan on Tuesday night. The performance vaulted them from No. 16 to their new ranking, marking the first time they've been in the top five since they were No. 4 in the 2021-22 preseason.
Maryland-Eastern Shore: The Hawks return home to face Lehigh on Wednesday night.
Virginia: plays at Michigan on Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
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