By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — In an ACC men’s basketball game that figures to attract little to no national attention, UVa plays Sunday afternoon at Boston College’s Conte Forum, where many of the 8,606 seats will be empty.
The scene was different Thursday night in Charlottesville, where Virginia knocked off No. 3 Duke 73-68 before a capacity crowd at 14,593-seat John Paul Jones Arena. After the final horn sounded, many of those fans stormed the court to celebrate the Cavaliers’ first victory over a top-5 opponent in 11 years.
“I think our fans have been waiting for a reason to rush the court,” fourth-year coach Tony Bennett said. “It was a good win, and it’s a [memorable] moment, but then you move on.”
It’s easier sometimes for coaches to move on than players after a big win. Everywhere Bennett’s players went after the game Thursday night and on Grounds Friday, fellow students congratulated them on a win seen nationally on ESPN. The victory kept UVa (20-8, 10-5) tied with North Carolina (20-8, 10-5) for third in the ACC.
“That was a great win for us, especially on that big of a stage,” Evans said Saturday, “especially with all the fans and supporters telling us `good job,’ but as a team we have to forget about that and just move on.
“I feel like our team is mature enough that they have already put the Duke game behind them, and we’re just ready and focused for BC.”
Bennett, naturally, is taking nothing for granted. He addressed the subject with his players when the team reconvened for practice Friday at JPJ.
“I just said, `Don’t be intoxicated by it,’ ” Bennett recalled Saturday. “It can be intoxicating, and the ability to enjoy the moment, that’s a gift. You take it, you enjoy it, you’re thankful for it, and then to try to be unaffected. When you’re playing good basketball, then hopefully you want to get back on the floor and keep trying to play good basketball.”
Boston College, as even the most casual fan knows, is not Duke, which rebounded from its loss to UVa to defeat Miami on Saturday night. In the 12-team ACC, BC (12-16, 4-11) is in 11th place, ahead of only Virginia Tech.
Still, the Eagles are 10-6 at home, and they nearly pulled off upsets of ACC powers Duke and Miami at Conte Forum, losing to each by a single point there.
“Everybody has that home-court advantage,” Evans said. “Everybody plays better at home, and they’ve been playing really well against the top teams in our conference, so we have to go in there and be focused and take care of business.”
The Eagles, in their third season under former Cornell coach Steve Donahue, have attempted the most 3-pointers of any team in the league — 576. Only UNC (556) is close.
“They’re well-coached,” Bennett said. “They’re predicated on spacing the floor, and if they’re shooting the ball well, they present great problems, and they have some good young talent.”
Of BC’s top seven players, five are sophomores and two are freshmen. The sophomores include 6-3 guard Lonnie Jackson, whose 3-point field-goal percentage (46.3) in conference plays leads the ACC.
When these teams met Jan. 26 at JPJ, UVa trailed 26-24 at halftime. The Wahoos rallied to win 65-51, but they remain wary of the Eagles, who made only 7 of 22 shots from beyond the arc that day.
“I don’t think we’re overconfident,” Bennett said late Thursday night. “That would be a mistake.”
Associate head coach Ritchie McKay prepared the scouting report for Sunday’s game.
“Playing BC is like when you gotta get a shot before going overseas,” McKay said. “If you’re anything like me and you don’t like shots, it’s the anxiety of getting that thing. Finally after getting that shot, it’s not that bad, but [the Eagles] can make you lose a little sleep, because they’re a young team that’s played really well at times. And they play excellent ball at the Conte Forum.”
Center Dennis Clifford, a 7-0 sophomore, has been slowed by injuries this season, but the Eagles have four players who have made at least 34 treys apiece, led by Jackson with 62.
“We just have to do a good job of knowing their personnel and realizing their system is really good,” McKay said. “They’re gonna make some shots, but we gotta make those shots ones that are hopefully outside of their comfort zone.”
Duke never took UVa’s best player, Joe Harris, out of his comfort zone Thursday night. The 6-6 junior from Chelan, Wash, scored 36 points — nine more than his previous career high.
“Harris is a big-time player and an amazing competitor,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward.
In the postgame frenzy at JPJ, Harris, Evans and freshmen Evan Nolte, Justin Anderson and Teven Jones jumped up on the scorer’s table, and their joy was palpable.
Bennett’s demeanor was more reserved, as is usually the case. Rest assured, though, he savored the victory, the most notable in his four seasons at UVa.
“Absolutely,” Bennett said Saturday. “If you don’t enjoy the wins, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. But as far as all the rushing the court and all that stuff, as a coach you kind of get past those things.
“I enjoy playing good basketball. That’s what excites me. I’m happy that our fans and our kids can enjoy [the win over Duke], but I just enjoy seeing us executing at a high level and playing against good teams and playing the right way. That’s what excites me, because we’re on a journey and every game as a coach you think, `What’s next?’ ”
What’s next is an opportunity for the `Hoos to further enhance their at-large credentials for the NCAA tournament. Bennett’s players know what’s at stake in Chestnut Hill.
“Just like Coach said, it’s about the pursuit of excellence,” Evans said. “We’re trying to get better each and every game. We had a big win on Thursday, and it’s just time to finish up the season strong.”