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By Jeff White (
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. –– The University of Virginia men’s basketball team will be hard-pressed to find a more hospitable venue in which to play an ACC road game than Boston College’s Conte Forum.
The large contingent of New England-based UVA fans raised a boisterous chant in the game’s first minute Tuesday night–– “Let’s go, Wahoos! Let’s go, Wahoos!” –– and were in full voice whenever something went well for the visiting team.
Such occasions were few and far between. Against a BC team missing two of its top three scorers, No. 18 Virginia trailed for most of the game. The Eagles closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 60-53 victory before a crowd of 5,781.
The Hoos (11-3 overall, 3-1 ACC) bore little resemblance to the group that humbled Virginia Tech 65-39 at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought we played with such great heart and passion and intensity against Virginia Tech,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said, “and I did not see that in the way it had to be here.”
Even short-handed, the Eagles “outplayed us,” Bennett said, “and we’re a team that, if we’re not ready and we’re not right, we’re not good enough to be sloppy in [terms of] readiness, alertness, hustle plays.
“We can’t absorb not being at a high level of readiness. There’s not a lot of teams in college basketball that can, but we definitely can’t. And we were not right.”
To win, especially on the road, the Cavaliers must “bring a composure and an effort level,” Bennett said, “and it seemed like that was lukewarm tonight, for sure.”
The Cavaliers were called for four fouls on BC’s first possession, which lasted nearly 40 seconds. The first was whistled on Virginia’s leading scorer, fifth-year senior Mamadi Diakite, 28 seconds into the game. Twenty-four seconds later, Diakite went to the bench with his second foul.
Redshirt junior Jay Huff replaced the 6-9 Diakite, and he too quickly picked up two fouls, limiting the Cavaliers’ frontcourt options.
Diakite finished with nine points, seven rebounds and a team-high three turnovers in 24 minutes. The 7-1 Huff, who fouled out with 2:03 remaining, contributed five points, five rebounds and one steal in 17-plus minutes.
“They’re two key guys, two senior guys that we rely on,” sophomore point guard Kihei Clark said. “So whenever they’re not on the floor it hurts us.”
Diakite scored the game’s first points, on a jump shot at the 19:32 mark, but BC answered with eight straight points. The Hoos trailed by four at the half and by 12 with 13:25 to play. 
“I think it was just the effort level,” Virginia swingman Kody Stattmann said. “We came out a bit soft straight away and slack at the start, so I think we just needed to bring more energy.”
Not until the 6:49 mark did UVA regain the lead, on a three-point play by Diakite that made it 48-45. About 90 seconds later, Clark hit two free throws to push the Cavaliers’ lead to 50-45, and the Eagles appeared to be unraveling.
“Everyone got excited,” Stattmann said. “Our energy boosted a lot, and by that point we usually extend the lead. But they just came straight back at us, and we weren’t really expecting that.”
The Eagles tied the game with a 5-0 run, setting up a tense finish. After BC went up 53-51, Virginia senior Braxton Key drove for a left-handed layup that tied the game with 1:37 to play. The score was still 53-53 when the 6-8 Key drove baseline and put up a layup with 55 seconds left. It didn’t drop, and the Eagles went ahead to stay on a 3-pointer by Jared Hamilton with 37 seconds left.
“It was a game where you had to make some plays off the dribble and be able to finish at the rim,” Bennett said, “and we had some trouble with that, for sure.”
With 20 seconds left, Diakite missed a contested 3-point attempt from the left wing, and BC grabbed the rebound. The Eagles went 4 for 4 from the line in the final 17 seconds.
The right-handed Key, playing with a splint on his left wrist, which he injured in late November, contributed 16 points and eight rebounds, both team highs, and also had two assists and two steals. He took a blow to his injured wrist in the final seconds but appeared to be OK after the game.
“He did some good things,” Bennett said of Key. “Braxton plays hard and he’s [always] on the glass.”
Clark posted game highs in in assists (three) and steals (three) and scored 12 points, but he was 0 for 9 from inside the arc. (He made both of his 3-point attempts.)
“I was getting them on the rim,” Clark said. “There was a bigger guy on me, but I should have finished them.”
Stattmann, a 6-7 sophomore, scored a career-best 11 points and added seven rebounds and two assists in a career-high 38 minutes.
“The bright spot was Kody Stattmann,” Bennett said. “I thought he showed some nice things in that game, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we showed our inexperience –– not only inexperience, we just played poorly, and that’s the bottom line.”
Clark said: “I thought we were kind of lethargic in the beginning of the game, and once you dig yourself that big of a hole … it’s harder to get back in it.”
Four Boston College players scored in double figures, including Steffon Mitchell, a 6-8, 220-pound forward whom Bennett compared to former UVA standout Isaiah Wilkins, Mitchell totaled 10 points, seven rebounds, a game-high three blocked shots, two steals and an assist.
“He brings such heart,” Bennett said of Mitchell. “He plays so hard, and I think we can learn from that. You see it. It can’t be a sometimes thing. It has to be an all-the-time thing. We did a great job with that last game and in certain games, but at times, if it’s not going well, you’ve got to have your defense hold you in, your effort has to be at a high level, and it seemed like we were hot and cold.”
The Cavaliers turned the ball over 10 times, leading to 12 points for BC, and their abysmal shooting compounded their problems. 
They matched their season low with a 32.7-percent showing from the floor. Virginia came in having made only 27.9 percent of its 3-point attempts and failed to match that mark at Conte Forum. UVA was 3 for 16 (18.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
The Eagles weren’t much more accurate from long range, missing 13 of 17 shots, but inside the arc they were 17 of 30.
Once the Hoos regained the lead, Clark said, they needed to “continue to get stops, which we didn’t do, and we didn’t take care of the ball.”
Bennett said: “I think the tape is going to reveal some things that are going to sting and hurt, but you move on and get ready for the next one.”
ANOTHER STEP FORWARD: This marked the second consecutive game in which Stattmann recorded a career high in points. He scored 10 against Virginia Tech and also pulled down a career-best eight rebounds in that game.
“It definitely just comes with confidence, and the coaches are telling me [to look for] my shot as much as I can,” Stattmann said. “I’ve been putting extra work in as well, so I’m feeling a lot more confident. It’s just on me pretty much to find my shots and see where they come from. The coaches have got faith in me, so I’ve got to keep doing what I do.”
SOUND BITES: UVA, which hosts Boston College at John Paul Jones Arena on Feb. 19, had won six straight games in this series. Among the postgame comments Tuesday night:
• Bennett on Diakite: “He’s a fifth-year, and he’s in a little different role this year, and we need him to be assertive and look for stuff, but you can’t pick up some of the [fouls] that are costly.”
• Stattmann on the UVA fans at Conte Forum: “We were aware of them straight away. When we first ran out [for warmups], you could hear them.”
• Stattmann on the wild fires that are ravaging his native Australia but have not affected his immediate family: “I’ve been looking at that every day on the Internet and social media … It’s pretty devastating what’s going on over there.”
• Stattmann: “Everyone’s disappointed. I think we just need to keep our heads up, and that’s on us to come out every game and perform at a high level and keep our intensity high. There’s no excuses for [not doing] that. You just have to bring it every game.”
LOOKING AHEAD: Virginia (11-3, 3-1) hosts Syracuse (8-7, 1-3) at JPJ at 4 p.m. Saturday, then visits No. 10 Florida State (13-2, 3-1) on Jan. 15 and Georgia Tech (7-7, 2-2) on Jan. 18. 
A limited number of tickets remain for the Syracuse game, which ESPN will televise.
Syracuse lost 67-63 to visiting Virginia Tech late Tuesday night.
UVA opened the season with a 48-34 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. The Cavaliers have won four straight over the Orange and lead the series 8-5.