Following back-to-back wins against Notre Dame and Wake Forest, the Virginia men’s basketball team came into Saturday’s bout against Boston College with the determination to maintain their winning ways. The Cavaliers (7-2, 3-0 ACC) accomplished just that at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., knocking off the Eagles (2-9, 0-5 ACC) by a score of 61-49.
“I think we've made the right strides, I think our energy and our ball pressure has been better and just covering for each other more,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “I felt like our mindset and our will, was we're going to be hard and hard to score against and tough-minded so I think that all that combined has made us better.”
Coming into the game, Virginia held a 16-8 all-time record against Boston College including nine wins in the last 11 games of the series. The previous match-up between the Cavaliers and the Eagles last season resulted in a 78-56 win for Virginia where the team recorded their season best of 58.8 percent shooting from the floor.
The starting line-up for Virginia on Saturday included junior guard Kihei Clark, freshman guard Reece Beekman, junior forward Trey Murphy and senior forwards Sam Hauser and Jay Huff. First blood was drawn by Huff who scored with a turnaround layup in the post after the first Cavalier possession.
On the other end of the floor, it was Huff again, this time setting the tone for the Virginia defense after rejecting the shot of senior forward James Karnik. A few possessions later, the Cavaliers found themselves with a 9-5 lead following a corner three-pointer from Hauser who was demonstrating more assertiveness on the offensive end.
“I mean I felt good about the start. To be honest, I feel like I probably dropped my shooting percentage today just because I missed a few chippies, few easy ones or just some that I would like to make,” Huff said. “But it still felt good to just have a good strong first half and then I wanted to make sure I led that into the second half.”
Murphy would attack the rim a possession later with a slam dunk that was followed up by two free throws from Huff to establish a 13-5 Virginia lead. As the two squads went back and forth, sophomore forward Justin McKoy connected on a jump hook in the paint to put the Cavaliers up 18-11.
Although Virginia was delivering from the paint in the early going, the shot made by McKoy with 12:21 remaining in the opening half was the last for the Cavaliers for a long stretch of time. After the Eagles managed to narrow the Virginia lead to just 18-16, both teams went on to have a scoring drought of more than five minutes each.
Boston College managed to hit their stride first with a 9-0 run that was sparked by a three-pointer from freshman guard DeMarr Langford. After making seven of their first 10 field goal attempts, the scoreless stretch for the Cavaliers included nine straight missed shots and five turnovers.
As the Eagles led 25-18, a three-pointer from Murphy with 3:38 remaining in the first half finally ended the drought for Virginia which lasted nearly nine minutes. The make by Murphy was a sign of momentum for the Cavaliers as the team finished the half on an 11-1 run and retook the lead, 29-26. Virginia outshot Boston College 41.7 percent to 30.3 percent in the first frame as Huff led both teams with 11 points and 5 blocks.
“The blocks were, I didn't realize I had that many so that was good to hear as soon as I came out of the locker room after the game,” Huff said. “But it certainly helps to get off to a good start.”
After a closely fought first half, the second frame brought about a different dynamic. Following a three-pointer by sophomore forward CJ Felder, Clark stepped up for the Cavaliers with back to back floaters to put Virginia up 33-29.
The onslaught from the Cavalier offense continued from there with an 8-3 run capped off with a dunk by Huff. The scoring run led to Virginia’s largest lead of the game up to that point, 41-31.
As the teams battled and exchanged buckets down the stretch, the Cavaliers eventually managed to extend their lead 51-39 after a lay-up from Huff, a shot that tied his career high of 18 points. With 6:49 remaining in regulation, Hauser drilled a three-pointed and followed it up with a lay in at the rim bringing the score to 56-39.
Leading by a commanding 17 points, Virginia was able to turn on the cruise control and coast to a 61-49 victory. Three Cavaliers finished the game in double figures including Huff with 18 points, Hauser with 17 points and Clark with 12 points.
Virginia connected on 24 of 53 field goal attempts for the game, however the team struggled from beyond the arc knocking down only four of 15 attempted shots. The Eagles struggled immensely to knock down their shots and went 17/55 from the floor and 9/15 from the free throw line.
“We're holding guys pretty good, I think they had two last second shots against the shot clock today,” Clark said. “But I think we're doing a good job defensively and I think we can just ramp it up a little bit more and just get a little better.”
Next up for the Cavaliers will be their second match-up of the year against Notre Dame. The game will take place Jan. 13 at 2:30 p.m. from John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va. Virginia bested the Fighting Irish 66-57 in their first match-up this season Dec. 30.