By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The ACC’s two best men’s basketball teams, Miami and Duke, escaped with one-point victories at Boston College’s Conte Forum this season. Another one of the conference’s upper-division teams was not so fortunate Sunday.
With 27 seconds left, UVa’s best player stepped to the line for a one-and-one. Joe Harris made the front end, giving the Cavaliers a 52-50 lead and moving them closer to a crucial ACC victory.
From that point, however, Virginia unraveled before a crowd of 5,062 that included a loud contingent of orange-clad fans whose support went for naught.
“On the road you have to be that much better and that much sounder,” fourth-year coach Tony Bennett said. “You have to make plays down the stretch to win, bottom line, at home or on the road. We didn’t make enough plays, and they did.”
Harris missed his second free throw, and then BC guard Joe Rahon hit a 3-pointer while getting fouled by UVa freshman Evan Nolte with 8.2 seconds left.
Rahon missed his free throw, and the Wahoos rebounded, trailing 53-52. With one timeout left, Bennett elected not to use it. He’d called a play before Rahon’s foul shot and did not want to give the Eagles time to set their defense.
Alas for Virginia, the play went awry. Senior point guard Jontel Evans burned precious seconds dribbling the ball up the court and then, while trying to get past his defender on the right side of the lane, stepped on the baseline with four-tenths of a second left. He was hoping to pass along the baseline to Harris in the opposite corner.
“That was the play Coach Bennett called. I just didn’t execute it,” Evans said. “I just stepped out of bounds.”
UVa’s Akil Mitchell intercepted BC’s inbounds pass near midcourt and quickly launched the ball toward the basket. It dropped through, but Mitchell’s 3-pointer came well after the final horn.
“When I saw it go down, I was like, `You gotta be kidding me,’ ” said Mitchell, a 6-8 junior who led Virginia with 16 points and eight rebounds. “It was just one of those days.”
Their collapse left the Cavaliers (20-9, 10-6) wondering how, three days after knocking off third-ranked Duke at John Paul Jones Arena, they squandered an 11-point second-half lead against the ACC’s 11th-place team.
Harris said the defeat “stings as bad as any one that we’ve had all season. Credit to Boston College. They’re very tough to play at home.”
The Eagles improved to 11-6 at Conte Forum this season. The ‘Hoos dropped to 2-6 in ACC road games.
“I knew it would be tough coming in here,” Bennett said. “We practiced real hard to prepare, and our guys are realistic enough to know every game’s a grind for us if we’re a little off.”
Even so, “I thought we played well enough to get the victory in the second half,” Bennett said. “I thought we were a little lackadaisical in the first half. And then in the second half we put ourselves in, certainly, position to come away with this. So that stings even more, when you feel it slip through your hands, whether it’s a turnover, a shot that leads to a layup, a missed free throw. The little things that we had to do to win on the road, we didn’t do. So that stings. It does.
“As I told our guys, it’s like the old ABC commercial [about] the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. You felt it on Thursday with an exhilarating win, with all that excitement, and then you were close to getting one [Sunday], and then we didn’t execute down the stretch.”
Harris, who torched Duke for a career-high 36 points, scored only 14 against BC (13-16, 5-11). He was 4 for 11 from the floor, and several of his misses weren’t even close.
“Today he was off,” Bennett said. “He wasn’t himself.”
Harris said: “I don’t know exactly what I’d pin it on. It just seemed to be one of those games. It was tough to kind of get in a rhythm offensively, I guess.”
The 6-6 junior was despondent over the free throw he left short with 27 seconds left.
“As a leader of the team, when I got a one-and-one, I gotta be able to knock down both shots, especially in a situation like that at the end of the game,” Harris said.
“I didn’t play well enough, down the stretch especially, for us to win the game, and as a leader of this team I gotta take it upon myself. I gotta be able to finish and close games out.”
When these teams met Jan. 26 at John Paul Jones Arena, the Cavaliers pulled away in the second half for a 65-51 win. Another victory over BC would have strengthened Virginia’s case for an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament. The loss to a sub-.500 team raises the stakes considerably for UVa in its remaining regular-season games.
Virginia plays Thursday night at Florida State (15-14, 7-9), then closes next Sunday night against Maryland (20-9, 8-8). The `Hoos hammered the Seminoles 56-36 at JPJ on Jan. 19 and defeated the Terrapins 80-69 in College Park on Feb. 10.
“It’s been our motto all year, just take it one game at a time,” Mitchell said. “We were going to try to win all three of them if we could, but obviously when you drop this one, it puts a little extra pressure on the last two.”
The ACC tournament starts March 14 at the Greensboro Coliseum. UVa is tied for fourth in the league with NC State, which won Sunday at Georgia Tech. The top four seeds in the ACC tournament get first-round byes.
The Cavaliers, whose hotel was in nearby Newton, had a 30-minute shootaround at Conte Forum on Sunday morning. They looked comfortable in the 8,606-seat arena early in the game, building a 15-7 lead, but BC answered with a 15-2 run.
With four minutes left in the first half, only three players had scored for UVa — Harris, Mitchell and Evans. A fourth Cavalier finally broke through at the 3:33 mark, Nolte with a trey that cut the Eagles’ lead to 22-20. Mitchell tied the game with a layup, and sophomore swingman Paul Jesperson hit a 3-pointer to help send Virginia into the break ahead 25-24.
BC led briefly early in the second half, but two more treys by Jesperson fueled a run that seemed to give the `Hoos control of this game. With 11:00 left, Virginia led 40-30, and a 3-pointer by reserve guard Taylor Barnette made it 43-32 with 10:22 remaining. About 90 seconds later, however, the Cavaliers’ lead was down to four.
“There were points I feel like we stepped off the gas instead of flooring it,” Mitchell said.
One key sequence came after Rahon scored on a drive to make it 43-36. Barnette usually operates outside the 3-point arc, but a teammate spotted him open in the lane. Barnette missed a 3-footer, however, and then BC guard Patrick Heckmann sank a 3-pointer that made it 43-39.
UVa didn’t panic, calmly building its lead back to 49-41. But BC refused to go away. Rahon’s two free throws made it 49-43, and then Heckmann’s third trey pulled Boston College to 49-46.
A slam by BC forward Eddie Odio made it 51-48 with 1:36 left. Odio then blocked a shot by Harris in the lane, starting a fast break that ended with Oliver Hanlan’s layup at the 1:09 mark.
Jesperson made his 28th straight start Sunday and, with nine points, was Virginia’s third-leading scorer. He watched from the bench for the final 7:23, however, as Bennett opted to use a lineup that included Nolte and fellow freshman Justin Anderson at the forward spots.
“I thought defensively we were doing a good job,” Bennett said. “I liked our defensive matchups on the perimeter … and I thought that was more important.
“I thought we could win it with our defense.”
A breakdown led to Odio’s dunk with 1:36 left, though, and then Nolte lost Rahon on the left wing in the final 10 seconds.
“We talked about guarding the 3 and switching it and all that,” Bennett said, “and we didn’t.”
Harris said UVa did not take “Boston College lightly by any means, or anything like that.” Whatever the reason, though, this was not the same Virginia team that dominated Duke for most of the game Thursday night.
“It’s on to the next one,” Mitchell said.
Evans said: “We let this one slip away. We got two more. We gotta finish strong.”