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Men’s basketball routes Georgia Tech 72-57, earns double-bye in ACC Tournament

With their NCAA Tournament hopes on the line, the Cavaliers’ hot shooting carried them on Senior Day

<p>Virginia will play in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Thursday at 9:30 p.m. against either Clemson, Boston College or Miami.</p>

Virginia will play in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Thursday at 9:30 p.m. against either Clemson, Boston College or Miami.

Virginia trounced Georgia Tech in the first half and never looked back behind an electric Senior Day crowd at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday. The Cavaliers (22-9, 13-7 ACC) entered the game on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament, while the Yellow Jackets (14-17, 7-13 ACC) sought to continue a three-game winning streak. On senior night, senior guard Reece Beekman matched a career high with 21 points, receiving a standing ovation in the final minute as Coach Tony Bennett gave him a curtain call.

Virginia got the scoring started with its stars. After two buckets from Beekman, sophomore guard Ryan Dunn penetrated the defense and hit a spin move for an easy layup. After a three-point shot from graduate forward Jake Groves, the Cavaliers led 10-8 with 14 and a half minutes left in the opening half of play.

While the opening minutes highlighted its top scorers, Virginia found ways to get others involved as the first half progressed. Junior guard Taine Murray was able to make a shot at the rim and, minutes later, found himself wide open beyond the arc courtesy of a Beekman assist. Bennett rewarded Murray's play, as he played a season high 28 minutes.

Despite Virginia sharing the basketball, Georgia Tech hung close trailing 23-18 with under five minutes left in the half. Freshman forward Bayes Ndongo sparked the Yellow Jacket offense, using his length to finish in the paint. After working down the shot clock and forcing a tough shot, the Virginia defense watched Ndongo gather an offensive rebound and finish a putback shot.

Even with Georgia Tech battling hard, Virginia ended the half on a 15-6 run. The Cavaliers scored on each of their last six possessions of the half, highlighting the usually hidden potential of their offense. Sophomore guard Isaac McKneely scored on Virginia's last possession of the half, splashing a three-point shot to extend the lead 38-24.

A Virginia lead at halftime has proved ominous for opponents this season. Entering the game, the Cavaliers were 19-0 when leading at half. Georgia Tech turned the ball over nine times in the first half, four of which came from Beekman and Dunn steals.

Ndongo started the second half having his way, scoring the first six points of the period for the Yellow Jackets. Although Virginia’s defense has been effective at preventing fast-break buckets, lanky Ndongo finished an alley-oop dunk just seconds after a Groves misfire on the other end.

Fortunately, the hot shooting did not stop for Virginia in the second half. Murray and McKneely both hit a three-point shot within the same minute — both courtesy of Beekman assists — to make the score 49-34 with just under 16 minutes remaining. 

The Cavaliers never relinquished their double digit lead. While Ndongo finished with 21 points, he was the only Yellow Jacket to score double figures. Georgia Tech has shot 32.7 percent from the three-point line this season but only connected on four shots Saturday despite a whopping 21 attempts. 

McKneely sealed the deal for the Cavaliers with a nylon-splashing three-pointer in the final minute, extending Virginia’s lead to 16. The assist came from Beekman, who Bennett then subbed out for senior forward Tristan How.

The JPJ crowd awarded the school’s all-time leader in steals with a standing ovation as he walked off the court. In his senior season, Beekman led the team in points, assists and steals and is the front runner for ACC defensive player of the year.

“He’s been here for four years,” Bennett said in a postgame press conference. “We talk a lot about the transfer portal, I know we talk a lot about NIL. This young man chose to come here. He's the career leader in steals. He’s won two ACC Championships. He’s done so much, and that’s what’s right.”

How entered the game much to the delight of Virginia fans. Soon after coming on the court, he received the ball just inside the three-point line, drove for a couple of dribbles, then spun and made a tough fadeaway jump shot. The crowd’s reaction blew the roof off of JPJ, and his teammates mobbed him at the final buzzer.

With the win Saturday night, Virginia earned a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. At 22-9, the Cavaliers are likely—  but not guaranteed — participants in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia hopes to cement its resume with a long run in the conference tournament this week.

Virginia will play in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Thursday at 9:30 p.m. against either Clemson, Boston College or Miami. The semifinals and championship game will be played Friday and Saturday, respectively.

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