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Virginia defeats Boston College, falls to NC State in ACC Tournament

The Cavaliers held strong in their first match, but crumbled in their second due to horrific free throw struggles

<p>Virginia was only able to capitalize on the extra minutes once, emerging victorious against the Golden Eagles but coming up short against the Wolfpack.</p>

Virginia was only able to capitalize on the extra minutes once, emerging victorious against the Golden Eagles but coming up short against the Wolfpack.

The Cavaliers took on two ACC foes —  Boston College and NC State — Thursday and Friday respectively in the conference tournament. While both matchups were sent into overtime, Virginia was only able to capitalize on the extra minutes once, emerging victorious against the Golden Eagles but coming up short against the Wolfpack. Marked by embarrassing levels of free-throw shooting, one win and one loss in Washington, D.C. placed Virginia in a precarious position heading into Selection Sunday.

Quarterfinal — Virginia 66, Boston College 60

In his opening fight, Coach Tony Bennett opted for most of the lineup he had used for the three games prior to the Thursday matchup — senior guard Reece Beekman, graduate forward Jake Groves and sophomore guards Ryan Dunn and Isaac McKneely. The fifth slot saw freshman forward Blake Buchanan fill in for graduate forward Jordan Minor in what would be a crucial matchup against the Golden Eagles’ premier threat, graduate forward Quinten Post.

Post was less of an issue in the early goings than junior guard Claudell Harris Jr., who hit his first three attempts from beyond the arc to stun the Virginia faithful in Capital One Arena. The Cavaliers looked sluggish early, wandering through a congested setup and often finding difficult post opportunities as the shot clock expired. Luckily, a Buchanan hook shot and two points from Dunn brought them out of the drought for their first points of the game.

Post eventually found his rhythm against Buchanan, getting two points in the post and then following it up with a three-pointer from the top of the key to give Boston College a daunting 14-4 lead. Virginia was quick to counter though, with the Cavaliers going on a small run started by junior guard Taine Murray and capped off with a ferocious dunk by Dunn off of a lob from Beekman. 

Boston College then capitalized on a string of Virginia misses to get their lead back to seven before Murray’s hot streak continued with another driving floater. Another three-pointer from sophomore guard Andrew Rohde shrunk the deficit to just two. 

As the half came to a close, Groves made his presence known with a three-pointer that gave the Cavaliers their first lead of the game, an additional three points from the corner and an offensive rebound. His production and an acrobatic Beekman and-one kept the Cavaliers in the game at half, trailing just 35-29.

Virginia saw better offensive efficiency at the beginning of the second half, hitting five of their first seven shots with Beekman drawing a foul on another. Murray continued his offensive blitz, hitting a three-pointer and a pull-up mid-range jumper in back-to-back possessions, while Beekman added another four points.

A steal — also courtesy of Dunn — was the only bright spot for the Cavaliers in the woeful stretch that followed, as Beekman proceeded to miss two consecutive shots, and Groves missed another shot to establish a thorough dry spell. Groves brought them out of it in the next possession, however, hitting a three-pointer from the wing in the face of a Boston College defender.

With just over 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the Cavaliers finally regained the lead when Rohde hit a mid-range jump shot off of an inbound pass. However, this particular stretch of glory was short-lived, as none other than Post got five quick points to suppress the Virginia run.

The Cavaliers went cold with the game tied up at 53-53 —  struggling to get their shots at the free throw line to fall — a weakness that ultimately doomed them in the semifinal.

With only a 29-second sliver of hope for Boston College, Virginia held a two point lead. Harris Jr. missed from deep, and it seemed as though the Cavaliers had victory in their hands when it hit hard off the rim. However, Minor was unable to corral the rebound and it ended up in the hands of junior guard Jaeden Zackery, who dished it to senior guard Mason Madsen for a game-tying long-range jump shot. The game, and Virginia’s season, rested in the hands of five minutes of overtime basketball.

A quick steal by Minor on the Golden Eagles’ first possession of overtime resulted in three points from McKneely on the other end, inciting massive roars of the many Cavalier fans spread across the arena. 

Although the Cavaliers then found themselves in a dry spell at the worst of times, their defense and scrappy rebounding came through at just the right moment. First it was a Boston College airball that drifted out of bounds, then it was a steal by Minor on an attempted pass inside to Post. On the other end, a gritty scramble on the floor ended in a jump ball and allowed the Cavaliers to maintain possession. 

A Beekman three-point shot gave Virginia a six-point lead, nearly ensuring victory barring an epic downfall. That downfall was almost realized when Harris Jr. came back down the other end and put up a difficult contested shot from beyond the arc to bring the Cavalier lead back to just three points. 

In the end, it was Minor who made all the difference, as he found the bottom of the net on a layup attempt, recorded a game-deciding steal and made one of his two free throws to seal the deal for the Cavaliers on a 66-60 thriller. 

Semifinal — Virginia 65, NC State 73

In a hard-fought battle, Virginia came within a whisker of punching their ticket to the ACC Championship, but NC State’s senior guard Michael O’Connell’s buzzer-beating shot dissolved that hope. The Wolfpack bested the Cavaliers in another overtime match in the ACC semifinals 73-65 thanks to a dominant interior presence and putrid free throw shooting from Virginia. 

Virginia wasted no time in grabbing the lead. Dunn won the opening tip and McKneely capitalized by drilling a three-point shot off a Beekman assist. NC State struggled to respond, wasting possessions before finally getting on the board with a post-up by graduate forward DJ Burns Jr. On Virginia’s next possession, Beekman found Dunn for a clean dunk inside, but the Wolfpack again responded, this time with a short jump shot by graduate guard — and former Cavalier — Casey Morsell. 

A few possessions later, the game was tied at 14-14, and the Wolfpack began to lean on junior forward Ben Middlebrooks. In under two minutes, Middlebrooks connected on three layups and a free throw. Beekman was quick to respond, however, drilling a three-point shot in space opened up by a Minor screen. Beekman then hit another quick layup and free throw to return a 27-25 Virginia lead. 

O’Connell sank a long two-point shot to tie the game back up, and neither team scored again until there were fewer than 30 seconds left in the half when Minor put back a missed shot. With the shot clock off, O’Connell isolated and proceeded to make a layup with two seconds on the clock to send the game to half deadlocked at 29. 

NC State dominated the paint in the first half, relying on big men Burns and Middlebrooks and scoring over two-thirds of their points in the paint. Virginia countered by making three more three-pointers, going 4-11. 

The Cavaliers retook the lead immediately after the break with a Beekman layup, but junior forward Mohamed Diarra responded with a layup moments later to keep it tied. Dunn then slammed home an inbound pass with one second left on the shot clock. McKneely was then fouled on a three-point attempt and made two free throws to extend the lead to four points. The Wolfpack kept fighting back though, taking a 44-42 lead.

Virginia surged back into the lead on the back of two nearly identical shots from McKneely on the left wing, one from behind the three-point line and one barely in front of it. Morsell hit another jump shot just out of a Wolfpack timeout, but the Cavaliers continued to rain fire. Murray nailed another three-pointer from the left wing and Mckneely converted from beyond the arc late in the shot clock to force another NC State timeout. Virginia led 53-46 with just over four minutes to play. 

The Wolfpack, playing their fourth game in four days, refused to quit. Burns continued to bully Minor with two more jump shots to cut into the deficit. McKneely countered, then Beekman and Morsell each traded dunks. 

After a flagrant foul on Burns, Beekman missed both of his free throws and then made one of two when the Wolfpack ensuingly fouled him. Dunn then fouled Morsell on a three-point attempt, and he made all three free throws to keep the game within three points with 44 seconds to play. 

McKneely and Morsell both misfired, with McKneely pulling down the rebound and getting fouled, sending him to the free throw line with an opportunity to put the game away for good.

With just over five seconds left on the clock, McKneely’s shot clanked off the front of the rim. O’Connell collected the ball and dribbled to the left wing. The guard rose up and heaved a shot from three-point distance that fell through at the buzzer. With his miracle shot, the game was tied at 58-58 and Virginia headed to overtime for the second night in a row. The Cavalier bench stared in shock, then regrouped for the extra five minutes.

Dunn won the tipoff to open the extra period, and Virginia jumped in front with McKneely’s fourth three-pointer of the night — but Burns made another two shots from the paint to retake the lead. Dunn then put back a Beekman miss, but Diarra responded with a quick layup. Dunn shook free and slammed home another dunk to retake the lead, but it would be their final advantage of the night. 

The tired Cavaliers then fell apart, ending the game on the wrong end of a 9-0 run. A Burns and-one and an O’Connell layup put the Wolfpack up four with 45 seconds left in the extra period. Groves and McKneely both missed three-pointers, and Virginia was forced to foul to stay alive. NC State made all their free throws and put away the Cavaliers, 73-65.

Senior forward DJ Burns led the way for NC State with 19 points and five rebounds. Burns and Middlebrooks both bullied the Cavaliers in the paint, where they won the scoring battle 40-26. Virginia received strong performances from Beekman — to the tune of 17 points and 11 assists — and sophomore guard Isaac McKneely, who scored 23 points and went 5-9 on three-pointers, but each missed key free throws down the stretch.

“We felt like we had it,” Bennett said.  “The effort was there, and we certainly played well enough. I'll tell them not to hang their head[s], and we'll learn from it as always. Hopefully we get a chance to keep playing.”

The Cavaliers then had to sit on their hands until their fate was decided during the Selection Sunday broadcast two days later. After the loss Friday, and a roller coaster of a regular season, it was anyone’s guess whether or not Virginia’s name would be called to compete in the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately, they slipped into the First Four against Colorado State, giving the Cavaliers a chance to continue their postseason. The game tips off Tuesday at 9:10 p.m. and will be broadcast on truTV.


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