No. 24 Virginia held off a late charge from West Virginia to win the third place game of the Fort Myers Tip-Off, 56-54. The Cavaliers (5-1, 0-0 ACC) needed a clutch free throw from senior guard Reece Beekman with two seconds left in the game to put away the Mountaineers (2-3, 0-0 Big 12). Beekman stuffed the box score along the way, registering 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals, but also coughed up four turnovers and shot just 1-4 from deep.
West Virginia’s fifth-year center Jesse Edwards established his presence early against a Virginia team that has struggled with interior defense. Edwards won the opening tip, grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul on Cavalier freshman forward Blake Buchanan, all within the game’s first 30 seconds. However, he would miss his attempt at a layup on the ensuing inbounds, setting a tone of great defense and putrid offense in the game’s opening minutes.
The teams combined to miss their first nine shots of the game and committed a total of four turnovers before Beekman picked a pocket and fed graduate student forward Jordan Minor for the game’s opening points. These first points of the game came at the 16:23 mark in the first half, and under a minute would pass before West Virginia opened their tab on an Edwards dunk. The Mountaineers would then take the lead off a long two from fifth-year forward Quinn Slazinski.
Virginia then put on a brief passing exposition, as sophomore guard Isaac McKneely threw a dime to redshirt freshman guard Leon Bond III, only for Bond to miss an easy layup. On the ensuing possession, Beekman grabbed another steal and fed Bond for a conversion. Slazinski and Beekman then traded three-pointers to make the game 7-7.
Edwards reentered the game and again took over, drawing another foul, converting a free throw, then flushing home a dunk a possession later. McKneely responded by scoring the game’s next five points, swishing two free throws and a long three-pointer off a flare screen.
Aside from a pair of Slazinski free throws, solid Virginia defense and shaky Virginia shooting kept the game scoreless for the next two minutes. Edwards finally broke it with a free throw to put the Mountaineers up one. Virginia sophomore guard Ryan Dunn then forced a steal and converted an easy layup to give the Cavaliers back the lead, followed by each team sinking a long two.
After another mini-drought, Beekman sank a very long two in between Slazinski and Edwards jumpers. Slazinski followed with another bucket, but his basket would be the last of the half for West Virginia. McKneely drained an even deeper three-pointer, then stole an offensive rebound from Edwards. The sophomore bricked his ensuing three-pointer, but Bond cleaned up the mess to give Virginia a 26-23 lead they would hold into halftime.
The teams combined to shoot 19-55 from the field in the first half. West Virginia dominated inside, outrebounding Virginia 23-11, but the Cavaliers won the first-period turnover battle 10-5.
Edwards notched the first points of the half on yet another low post mismatch. Dunn responded by getting fouled while trying to put back his own but missed the second free throw. Dunn then finished a beauty of a layup of another Beekman steal-and-dish. Over the next few possessions, Buchanan and sophomore guard Andrew Rohde would sink three more free throws, a jumper and an easy finish at the basket to give Virginia a 36-26 lead, their largest of the game.
However, the Mountaineers fought back as their jumpers began to heat up. Edwards slammed home another dunk, then junior guard Kobe Johnson followed with a corner three-pointer — just the third shot of the night made by a West Virginia player that was not Edwards or Slazinski. Bond responded with a pretty fall-away jumper.
Edwards scored off another offensive rebound to keep the deficit at five but fouled Dunn on a made layup on the next possession. Dunn would miss the free throw, however, and West Virginia would respond with three consecutive threes to take a 42-40 lead with 8:41 to play.
Beekman rose up from midrange to tie it back up, then fed graduate student forward Jacob Groves on his go-ahead three-pointer. Groves then stole the ball off Johnson and got it to McKneely. McKneely drove to the rack but was fouled, which led to a shoving match that saw both McKneely and Slazinski assessed technicals. Beekman would miss from deep off the inbounds pass, and Slazinski would respond with a three-pointer of his own to retie the game.
Both teams missed easy shots before Johnson put West Virginia up with a steal and uncontested layup. Dunn redeemed himself by finishing a free throw over Slazinski. Buchanan gave up his fifth and final foul of the night against Edwards, but the fifth-year was only able to convert once from the line. McKneely proceeded to miss a three-pointer, leading to Johnson feeding another West Virginia roll player for a three-pointer. During this play, Dunn appeared to have the wind knocked out of him and was unable to leave the ground to go play defense. He would stay in the game as Virginia trailed 51-50 with 1:55 to play.
Beekman sliced through the lane for a bucket on the next possession to regain the lead. Groves then fouled Edwards on the floor, but the big man missed his free throw and Dunn hit a tough shot to extend the lead to three. Bond kept it interesting, though, by impeding Slazinski’s landing space on a three-pointer. The junior sank all three from the stripe, tying the game with 36 seconds on the clock.
Beekman brought the ball up the floor slowly, then fed Dunn, who missed a three-pointer. Bond then grabbed a clutch offensive rebound and dished to Beekman, who missed an acrobatic layup but drew a foul. He made the first shot and missed the second, with Dunn grabbing the rebound over Edwards, who turned and fouled.
“That was a perfect miss,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We even got the rebound.”
Dunn sank a free throw with 0.4 seconds left, then missed second, as West Virginia could not get off their desperation heave in time to secure a 56-54 Virginia.
Edwards and Slazinski each scored 17 of the Mountaineers’ 54 points, while Dunn led Virginia with 13 points. Bond and McKneely both added eight. Virginia was again badly outrebounded in the second half, but managed to create six more turnovers to make up for lost opportunities on the glass. In a season where the Cavaliers will likely be outsized for the majority of games, the ability to limit rebounding opportunities will be key, and the team showed a potential solution in Wednesday’s victory. West Virginia will not compete with the top of the Big 12, so the closeness of the game is slightly concerning, but at this point in the season any win is a good win.
“At the end of the day, it was a couple of possessions,” West Virginia Coach Josh Eilert said. “I told our guys we have a small margin for error. These are the challenges we face. We had 16 turnovers so we gotta be better with the ball. And get locked in.”
Virginia will retake the floor at John Paul Jones Arena Wednesday against No. 12 Texas A&M. The game will stream at 7:15 p.m. on ESPN2.