By Jeff White (

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The University of Virginia men’s basketball team flew home early Thursday in a much better place than when it left Charlottesville Albemarle Airport for New England on Tuesday afternoon.

With postseason approaching, back-to-back losses had weakened the Cavaliers’ résumé, and a third straight defeat would have done significant additional damage. To his players, head coach Tony Bennett tried not to attach too much importance to UVA’s game against Boston College, “but these guys are smart,” he said. “They know whatever the magic number is to get in.”

The Wahoos are one win closer after rallying to defeat the Eagles 72-68 late Wednesday night at Conte Forum, where many fans in the sparse crowd of 4,851 wore blue and orange.

“We kind of knew we had to win it if we wanted a chance to play in [the NCAA tournament],” sophomore guard Isaac McKneely said. “But Coach Bennett’s message before the game was to not think about that pressure. Of course, there’s pressure for us to win, but try to block that out. Just play. Just play the game that we love, and I thought we went out and did that tonight.”

With 8:24 remaining, Boston College (15-13 overall, 6-11 ACC) scored in transition to take a three-point lead, and Virginia (21-8, 12-6) found itself in perilous territory. But McKneely silenced the Eagles’ fans with a 3-pointer that made it 51-51, and his shot started an 11-0 run that gave the Hoos a lead they never relinquished.

Two more treys followed in succession—another by McKneely and the second by graduate transfer Jake Groves—and then freshman center Blake Buchanan made 1 of 2 free throws to stretch UVA’s lead to 58-51. A free throw by McKneely with 4:55 to play capped the Cavaliers’ scoring spree.

“It’s funny how you make a few shots and then the floor sort of opens up,” Bennett said.

The Cavaliers hit their final six shots from the floor, including four 3-pointers. The last of those treys, by sophomore swingman Andrew Rohde, made it 63-55 with 3:41 left.

“Some big shots down the stretch,” McKneely said. “Some big stops as well.”

The Eagles, who trailed 27-23 at the break, took their first lead at 40-39. Multiple lead changes followed.

“We showed a lot of fight,” UVA guard Reece Beekman said. “They made multiple runs today in the second half, where it was kind of that back-and-forth game, and I feel like we did a great job of not losing [composure]. This is a big game for us in our season. Everybody stayed under control and made the plays when they were there.”

Isaac McKneely

Free-throw shooting has been an adventure for the Cavaliers this season, and they missed six foul shots Wednesday night. In the final two minutes, though, the Hoos went 4 for 4 from the line, with Beekman and McKneely each making a pair.

“If you’ve watched us this year, you know we squeak some of them out and we’re far from perfect,” Bennett said, smiling, “but the kids, they do battle, and it was good to be able to come in here and [win].”

Beekman, a 6-foot-3 senior, has produced countless memorable performances as a Cavalier, and he turned in another gem at Conte Forum. He finished with 18 points, five rebounds, a game-high eight assists and one blocked shot. Beekman now ranks fourth in career assists at UVA with 594.

“He’s one of the more underrated guards in the country,” Bennett said. “He’s unassuming, but the more he plays, the more you watch him, I hope people are seeing what’s happening for his future, because it’s good and he knows how to play and I think he’s underrated in so many ways.”

The Boston Celtics’ general manager, Brad Stevens, attended Virginia’s shootaround at BC’s arena Wednesday afternoon, and several NBA scouts were on hand for the game that night. Bennett, a former NBA guard, said he believes Beekman has a “next-level [skill set]. But that’s for another time. It’s about him making plays for this team and being as tough-minded defensively and as sound as he can be.”

Two regular-season games remain for the Cavaliers, who trail only first-place North Carolina (22-6, 14-3) and second-place Duke (22-6, 13-4) in the ACC standings. The closing stretch starts Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., where Virginia meets No. 10 Duke in a 6 p.m. game to air on ESPN.

The Blue Devils routed visiting Louisville 84-59 on Wednesday night.

The Cavaliers haven’t played at Cameron since Feb. 7, 2022, when they edged the No. 7 Devils 69-68. Beekman delivered the game-winner that night, hitting a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left.

“That’ll be a new situation and a new environment for a lot of our guys,” Bennett said. “I’ve been in there so many times and they’re one of our best teams in our league with the talent that they have, but what an opportunity for us to go in and try [and upset Duke].”

The Hoos have little time to prepare for the Blue Devils, “but this one gave us, I think, some excitement and some encouragement,” Bennett said at Conte Forum, “and we’ll take that on the road and be as ready as we can.”

Ryan Dunn

Bennett shook up his lineup Wednesday night, starting Groves in Rohde’s place. “I just thought, let’s get a little more shooting on the floor,” Bennett said.

For the 6-foot-9 Groves, who had totaled only two points in Virginia’s previous three games, it was his first start since Jan. 13, and he responded as Bennett hoped. Groves was 3 for 6 from beyond the arc (5 for 11 overall) and finished with 13 points. McKneely, who scored 14 points, also was 3 for 6 from long range.

“Those guys hitting shots just spreads the floor out and just makes everything easier,” Beekman said. “They were put in good positions today. We’ve been preaching all week, if the shot’s there, take it, you gotta have confidence. I feel like we worked on this stuff this week and it showed today.”

Boston College center Quinten Post, a 7-0, 235-pound graduate student, hit all 11 of his free throws and scored a game-high 24 points, and he also had 10 rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and one steal. Post was among the players NBA scouts were evaluating Wednesday night, as was UVA forward Ryan Dunn.

A 6-foot-8 sophomore, Dunn didn’t shoot well from the floor (3 for 9) or the line (2 for 4), but he shined defensively and on the boards. He pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds and also contributed eight points, one assist, one steal and one block.

Dunn’s numbers might well have been even better had he played more in the second half. He went to the bench with 9:39 left and didn’t return until the final minute.

“It wasn’t necessarily scripted,” Bennett said. “He had been playing, he was all over the glass, we were using him in different spots, and he needed a break.”

With Dunn out, Bennett went with a lineup that included Groves, Beekman, Rohde and McKneely, and that group shifted momentum back in Virginia’s favor.

“I liked how that looked,” Bennett said. “I was thinking about going back with Ryan, but I just thought those guys, they stretched the lead a little bit. And so that group was good and Ryan was on the bench cheering like crazy and then we used him obviously when Blake fouled out [in the final minute].”

Rohde, who has started 27 games this season, totaled five points, one rebound and one assist in 18:40 off the bench.

“It’s not necessarily a demotion,” Bennett said. “It’s just we changed things up, and look how Rohde played and responded. Again, I liked what I saw and I’m glad those guys got going when we needed it.”

The Cavaliers were coming off three straight games in which they failed to reach the 50-point mark, including losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Virginia scored 45 points in the second half alone Wednesday.

“We were joking about it in there,” Beekman said outside the locker room. “The last two games combined [barely exceeded Virginia’s 72 points against BC].  But it’s gonna be like that sometimes. Today was still a close game. So we’re gonna learn from this and get better and get ready for the next one.”

The Eagles pounded the Cavaliers at Conte Forum last season, and Bennett knew his team was facing another challenge Wednesday night.

“They’re very physical,” Bennett said, “and we knew we were going to have to be able to match their physicality and bring a little more scoring, and thankfully we did.”

Bennett’s father, as basketball fans know, had a legendary coaching career too, and Dick Bennett sent his son a text message ahead of the BC game. The elder Bennett said the Cavaliers should focus on their effort and execution and not the implications of the game.

“You can sometimes put too much pressure on the outcome,” Tony Bennett said.

Against BC, “we knew the physicality was going to be real on both ends,” Bennett said. “We tried to prepare that way. We played a real physical game against Carolina, defended really well and labored mightily to make shots, get shots. So we tried to address that and just said, ‘Look, we’re still playing, we’ve got three [regular-season] games left, and every game is meaningful,’ without overdoing it.”

The Cavaliers are in their 15th season under Bennett, and this is the 12th time they’ve reached the 21-win mark. They won for the 13th time in their past 15 games with Boston College, to the delight of a cheering section that included Celtics forward Sam Hauser, a former UVA standout.

Late in the game, the Cavalier faithful started chanting, “U-V-A! U-V-A!” For a team playing more than 500 miles from John Paul Jones Arena, it was a wonderful and welcome sound.

“Coming into the game, we didn’t know how the energy was going to be in here, the environment,” McKneely said. “Wednesday night, 9 p.m. game. We didn’t know. There was a lot of UVA fans, and that’s really cool to see. And the UVA chants were pretty cool.”

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