By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The most modest of winning streaks ended with a thud Saturday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena.
The UVa men’s basketball team, which had followed a one-sided loss to Duke with victories over Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, fell 63-44 to another ACC team, Boston College, before 10,747 at JPJ.
As the Wahoos (5-9, 14-14) had versus Duke, they shot horribly against BC — 19 percent from 3-point range and 32.1 percent overall. Against the Blue Devils, though, Virginia played rugged defense, holding them to 56 points, by far their lowest output of the season.
UVa also distinguished itself defensively against the Techs. But that intensity vanished in the final 22 minutes Saturday against a BC team that barely beat Virginia last month in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
“That’s the most discouraging part today,” second-year coach Tony Bennett told reporters at JPJ.
The Eagles (7-7, 17-11) shot 57.1 percent from the field in the second half. For much of the first half, however, Virginia’s defense excelled.
BC didn’t score until the 14:32 mark, on a dunk by junior guard Reggie Jackson that made it 7-2. With 1:45 left in the half, UVa led 28-21, and Boston College had made only 8 of 21 field-goal attempts.
“It kind of came easy early for us,” Bennett said, “but from that point on, our defense really let us down.”
The Eagles, aided by two Virginia turnovers, scored the final 10 points of the half. Their barrage continued after intermission. BC’s lead reached double digits for the first time, at 42-32, on a 3-pointer by senior forward Corey Raji at the 13:21 mark, and UVa never mounted a serious comeback.
“It just seemed like the momentum shifted,” Cavaliers point guard Jontel Evans said. “We were ready to pour it on, and then they just came back at the end and took the lead and just came out with more momentum and energy in the second half, and they just took it to us.”
Three BC players — Jackson (25 points), Raji (17) and senior forward Joe Trapani (12) — outscored UVa by themselves Saturday.
“We just kind of got away from our principles defensively,” said Virginia forward Joe Harris, a 6-6 freshman who had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Evans said: “That’s our only chance, the defense. We don’t have any guys on the team that are going to get 30 a night. We have a team. And when it’s not working on the defensive end, our chances are limited. That’s our bread and butter. That’s what we hang our hat on, the defensive end, and when it’s not working, we’re in trouble.”
Jackson dazzled, making 10 of 16 shots from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and added 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
“We didn’t have an answer for him,” Bennett said.
Evans was among the UVa players who tried unsuccessfully to stop the 6-3 Jackson.
“He’s very good, a very athletic guy that can get to the basket, a guy that can shoot the 3,” Evans said. “So it’s very hard to guard him, because you can’t back off of him, and you can’t play him too tight, because he can blow right by you.”
It didn’t help that the large majority of Virginia shots missed the mark. Take away starting center Assane Sene (4 for 4) and reserve forward Akil Mitchell (2 for 4), and the other Cavaliers were 11 for 45 (24.4 percent) from the floor.
“We certainly struggled offensively,” Bennett said, “and we’ve had games like this before where we haven’t been able to hit the shots or have enough guys scoring, but this was one of the first games where I felt like we really got outplayed defensively.”
Bennett’s starting guards — Evans, senior Mustapha Farrakhan and junior Sammy Zeglinski — were a combined 6 for 31. Zeglinski made only 1 of 10, a 3-pointer that put Virginia up 26-20 with 3:10 left in the opening half.
“I had some good looks,” Zeglinski said, “some of the best looks I’ve had all season, I thought, and it’s just frustrating not being able to knock them down for my teammates.”
Sene and Farrakhan scored 10 points apiece to lead the Cavaliers. Farrakhan, however, made only 4 of 13 shots from the floor, and he turned the ball over three times. His most egregious error came late in the first half, with UVa clinging to a 28-26 lead.
BC had begun using a three-quarter-court zone trap, and Farrakhan tried to lob a pass over Jackson. The Eagles’ all-ACC candidate deflected the ball, came up with the steal and dribbled in for a layup that made it 28-28. Farrakhan fouled him on the play, and Jackson added the free throw to give Boston College its first lead.
The Cavaliers trailed the rest of the way.
“It looked like a turnover of fatigue,” Bennett said. “[Farrakhan] looked a little tired chasing Jackson around, and all of the sudden he just didn’t have enough in the tank.”
UVa needs Farrakhan at full throttle. He starred in the recent wins over Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech and, with 6-8 Mike Scott sidelined by an ankle injury, is the Cavaliers’ top offensive threat.
Farrakhan and classmate Will Sherrill will be recognized Tuesday night before UVa’s final regular-season game at JPJ. Virginia hosts NC State (5-9, 15-13) at 7 o’clock.
For the ‘Hoos, that game will be an opportunity not only to honor Farrakhan and Sherrill, but to show the effort against BC was an aberration.
“I felt like we should have made it a game, coming off two big wins,” Evans said. “I just felt like we didn’t fight.”