Virginia excelled offensively against Boston College, picking up a 78-65 victory at John Paul Jones Arena Wednesday night. The Cavaliers (18-7, 10-5 ACC) took a 20-point lead in the second half as five players entered into double digits scoring. Despite impressive performances by senior forward Nik Popovic and freshman guard Jay Heath, the Eagles (13-14, 7-9 ACC) couldn’t overcome the deficit as Virginia caught fire.
“This game was great,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “Our offense kind of carried us, but we talked about not getting too comfortable. We were more efficient, more guys scoring, and I think there is a comfort level in the last few games that has showed, even against Louisville.”
Junior guard Tomas Woldetensae and junior forward Jay Huff both led the Cavaliers with 11 points in the first half, including three three-pointers each. Heath and Popovic paced Boston College on the other end with eight and six points, respectively.
Huff locked into the game with eight points in the first three minutes of play. Opening the scoring with a layup in the first possession, Huff guided Virginia on a 10-4 run with a pair of three-pointers to jump out to an early lead.
With just over 13 minutes on the clock, Boston College quickly began to chip away at the deficit, scoring seven straight points to steal the advantage at 16-15. In response, Woldetensae drained his first three-pointer of the night, and senior guard Braxton Key followed suit with a layup to regain a four-point lead for the Cavaliers. Despite a trio of missed opportunities, Virginia led 20-19 with under nine minutes to go.
As the Eagles entered a major scoring drought, a pair of free throws by senior forward Mamadi Diakite and another three-pointer by Woldetensae pushed the Cavaliers to a six-point lead with 4:19 remaining in the half. From there, Virginia finally started to generate momentum on offense. Diakite and Key added consecutive points while Woldetensae and Huff drained back-to-back three-pointers to give the Cavaliers their largest lead at 35-23 at the break.
The game heated up following halftime, as fouls continued to remain a problem for both teams. However, Virginia managed to cling to its lead in the opening minutes of the period. Diakite, sophomore guard Kihei Clark and Woldetensae added to the score while Popovic entered double digits with his first three-pointer of the night.
Just under the 15-minute mark, Key ignited and scored six straight points while the Eagles came up empty handed. Sophomore guard Kody Stattman continued the momentum and drained a three-pointer for his first points of the night while Diakite gave the Cavaliers a 56-42 lead with 11:29 to go.
Popovic fought to keep Boston College from falling too far behind, draining his second three-pointer of the night with under eight minutes remaining. It wasn’t enough, however, and Virginia quickly changed pace and began to take control of the game.
“[Virginia is] just playing with so much more confidence. Boston College Coach Jim Christian said. “The same shots are open there’s just a little more pop in their step, a little more pop in their shot. It’s why Tony [Bennett’s] a great coach.”
There was no looking back as Clark became the fourth Cavalier to enter into double digits scoring. A 9-0 run fueled by Clark, Key, Diakite and Stattman extended the deficit to 20 points at 70-50, Virginia’s largest lead of the night.
The Eagles weren’t finished yet, and Heath scored six unanswered points to ignite an 8-0 run by Boston College. While Heath and Popovic continued to add to the score, Clark scored seven straight and allowed Virginia to win comfortably by a final score of 78-65.
As the regular season reaches its final stages, the Cavaliers’ offense is showing improvement in both speed and efficiency. The next five games are crucial to Virginia’s chances to make it into the March Madness tournament this year.
“Every game is big at this point,” Key said. “We feel that we can win out the rest of the regular season and that is one of our goals right now. But we have to take it one game at a time and obviously when you play against a team that you lost to, whether you think you can beat them or not, you want to go out and get some revenge.”
The Cavaliers travel to play against Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center Saturday at noon, and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.