By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The chants grew louder as the second half progressed Saturday afternoon: “Let’s go, Wa-hoos! Let’s go, Wa-hoos!” and “U-V-A! U-V-A!”
Some 500 miles from Charlottesville and John Paul Jones Arena, hundreds of orange-clad Virginia fans made themselves at home — and let their voices be heard — at Boston College’s Conte Forum.
“That was just amazing,” redshirt junior big man Anthony Gill said. “It kind of reminded me of the ACC tournament last year.”
“I heard them right from the beginning,” sophomore point guard London Perrantes said. “It felt like there was more UVa fans than Boston College fans, and I loved that. We all loved that. They travel well, and it’s great for us.”
The Cavaliers’ supporters had much to cheer Saturday. After falling behind by five points early in the second half, No. 2 Virginia rallied to win 66-51, its first victory at BC in four attempts under head coach Tony Bennett.
The win, combined with Syracuse’s loss at Clemson later in the day, left defending ACC champion Virginia (17-0, 5-0) alone atop the conference standings. It also continued the best start since 1980-81 for the `Hoos, who showed the resolve and poise that have become their trademarks.
“Their basketball maturity as a group is what really impresses me,” said Boston College coach Jim Christian, whose best player, junior guard Olivier Hanlan, echoed that comment.
“They didn’t do [anything] crazy,” Hanlan said of the Cavaliers. “They just don’t make mistakes down the stretch, and that’s what separates them from a lot of teams.”
After a sluggish first 20 minutes, Virginia led 27-24 at the break. But the Eagles (8-8, 0-4) turned to guard Patrick Heckmann in the second half, and he delivered. A 6-5, 210-pound senior who came in averaging 7.7 points per game, Heckmann scored nine in the first 5:14 of the second half.
Six came on drives that pierced UVa’s step-slow defense, the other three on a long jumper from the left wing. Heckmann’s flurry sparked BC to a three-point lead, and then Hanlan scored on a drive to make it 38-33 with 14:25 remaining.
“I wasn’t expecting Heckmann to get layups at the rim,” Bennett said. “They broke us down with some good action. We had some miscommunication. Any time a home team gets an easy, uncontested one right at the rim, or offensive putbacks or little things, you can see the momentum [shift], and you see their energy, you feel the crowd, and I just didn’t like that.”
“Some of it was personnel,” Bennett said of UVa’s success against Heckmann. “We thought, OK, maybe we can get a little more mobile guy out there.”
After a stretch of three straight games in which he did not play, Wilkins has become an important part of Bennett’s rotation. His second-half defense helped Virginia rally for a victory over then-No. 13 Notre Dame last weekend in South Bend, Ind., and then he scored five points Tuesday night in a rout of Clemson in Charlottesville.
Against Boston College, Wilkins checked in at the 11:06 mark of the first half. He soon made his presence known. On a lengthy possession that ended with a jumper by classmate Marial Shayok, Wilkins grabbed three offensive rebounds. Then, at the other end of the court, he took a charge.
“It’s good just to be able to go out there and play as hard as I can and contribute and play my role,” Wilkins said.
In the second half, Wilkins launched the Cavaliers’ comeback, burying a faceup jumper that made it 38-35 and quieted BC’s fans. Redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon followed with a drive that pulled Virginia to 38-37. About 90 seconds later, Wilkins converted a reverse layup, off a slick pass from Perrantes, to put the ‘Hoos up 39-38.
UVa never trailed again.
“I think he’s got some game in him … He’s not afraid of the moment, and I thought his alertness was important for us,” Bennett said of Wilkins.
Wilkins’ ability “to keep some possessions alive with offensive rebounds and then to take the big shot and do some things, that was good,” Bennett said. “I think he gave us a great lift, as did a lot of guys. We can go down the list, but that was a nice moment for him, certainly.”
In a game in which junior swingman Justin Anderson, who came in averaging a team-high 14.5 points, failed to make a field goal for the first time this season, Virginia still had enough firepower to put away BC.
Brogdon scored a game-high 20 points, Gill (11 points and 10 rebounds) posted his third double-double of the season, 6-8 senior Darion Atkins added eight points, five rebounds and two blocked shots, and Wilkins and Shayok combined for 11 points.
And then there was Perrantes, who scored all eight of his points in the final 7:38, hitting two treys and a runner that bounced softly off the backboard and into the basket.
Perrantes “actually said, coming out of the locker room [at halftime], `All I need is one. I need one to go down,’ ” Anderson told reporters. “I said, “Man, you’re not the only one. I need one to go down too.’ He did a great job, making big-time shots, but also coming off ball screens and making plays off the pick-and-roll.”
Against BC, Perrantes took only five shots, but he still “kind of controlled the game for us, especially down the stretch,” Bennett said.
Perrantes also had six assists and three boards for UVa, which outrebounded BC 35-20. Led by Gill (five) and Wilkins (three), Virginia totaled 13 offensive rebounds and turned them into 10 points.
“The rebounding was significant for us,” Bennett said.
After a first half in which they made only 10 of 27 field-goal attempts, the Cavaliers shot 50 percent (11 for 22) in the final 20 minutes. For Anderson, though, nothing would drop. He finished 0 for 8 from the floor.
“He just missed shots,” Christian said of Anderson, who came in shooting 53.3 percent. “He’s a great shooter. It’s not your night every night. It wasn’t any special strategy [by BC].”
Anderson found other ways to contribute. From the line, he was 8 for 9, and his three free throws coming out of a timeout stretched Virginia’s lead to 49-42 with 6:55 left.
“That whole media timeout, I was just thinking about how I couldn’t get anything to fall throughout the whole game,” Anderson said. “But you just gotta stay the course and be mentally strong, and I think my teammates did a great job lifting me up, telling me to keep shooting open shots and to keep staying the course. And I think they were huge in my progression on those free throws.”
Boston College closed to 53-48 on a Hanlan drive with 4:58. But Perrantes answered with five straight points, and the UVa fans in the crowd of 8,112 cranked up the volume again.
“He waits for the right time, when everybody is down on us and we really need a bucket,” Gill said of Perrantes, “and then he just shoots it and it goes in.”
Had the Cavaliers played better early, Gill acknowledged, the second half might not have included so much drama. However, he added, “We would rather finish the game off strong than start it off strong and not finish it at all. We want to [play well] both halves, but you know how that goes sometimes. We finished well tonight, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Anderson said: “We all know that if we buy in and we trust in each other and we trust our coaching staff, that even through adversity we can come through, and I think we did a great job showing that tonight.”
UP NEXT: Virginia returns home to play Georgia Tech (9-8, 0-5). In a game to be televised by the ACC Network, the teams meet Thursday at 8 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena.
The Yellow Jackets lost 70-65 at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Under Bennett, UVa is 6-1 against Georgia Tech. The `Hoos have won 20 straight games at 14,593-seat JPJ.
Fewer than 500 tickets remain for Thursday night’s game. Tickets can be purchased online at VirginiaSports.com. To buy tickets over the phone, call (800) 542-8821 or (434) 924-8821. Tickets also can be purchased at the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium.