By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — To the ever-expanding list of magical moments from Senior Nights at John Paul Jones Arena, add the fallaway jump shot that Tristan How hit with 14.6 seconds left in the game Saturday in Virginia’s regular-season finale.

How’s shot put the Cavaliers ahead 72-54 and sent his teammates and the crowd at JPJ into a frenzy. The UVA coaches were more restrained, but there was no hiding their delight, either.

“It’s uncanny,” said Tony Bennett, who in his 15 years as the program’s leader has seen similar highlights from Thomas Rogers, Caid Kirven and Chase Coleman, players who like How came to UVA as walk-ons.

Recognized in a Senior Night ceremony before the game were student-managers Joe Busch, Brian Rodgers and Wayne Yen and four players: How, Jake Groves, Jordan Minor and Reece Beekman.

All received warm ovations from the crowd, but in many ways this night belonged to Beekman. One of the most well-rounded players in program history, the 6-foot-3 guard matched his career high with 21 points and also contributed nine assists, six rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot—with only one turnover—in the Wahoos’ 72-57 win.

After the game, before the Hoos headed to their locker room, Bennett took the microphone and, standing near midcourt, saluted Beekman.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my honor to present the all-time steals leader in Virginia basketball history,” said Bennett, who gave Beekman a ball commemorating the record No. 2 set last weekend against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

A few minutes later, at his postgame press conference, Bennett singled out Beekman again.

“I want to say this: A lot of stuff gets talked about the state of college basketball,” Bennett said late Saturday night. “Well, let’s celebrate a guy like Reece Beekman, who came to Virginia and stayed four years.”

Reece Beekman

Many of Bennett’s teams at UVA have been more talented and experienced than his current group. But with Beekman doing a little of everything, Virginia (22-9, 13-7) finished third in the ACC standings, behind only first-place North Carolina and runner-up Duke.

The ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2022-23, Beekman leads the Hoos in points, assists and steals. He’s second on the team in rebounds and third in blocks.

“He’s always been a good player, but he’s taken a step each year, and he’s improved,” Bennett said, “and he’s been here for four years. Let’s talk about that. I know we talk a lot about transfer portal. I know we talk a lot about NIL … He’s the career leader in steals, he’s won two ACC [regular-season] championships. He’s done so much, and that’s what’s right [about college basketball], and it’s good to see.”

Beekman worked out for NBA teams last spring and considered turning pro before deciding to return to UVA for his fourth year. Bennett is confident NBA teams are well aware of the strides Beekman has made, even if many members of the national media aren’t.

“I really hope, and I believe this, the important people see it and know, and that’s what matters,” Bennett said. “His game is understated. You’ve got to watch him over time. But what he’s done to get a third-place finish for this team [is remarkable].”

From a team that earned a share of the ACC regular-season title in 2022-23, Virginia lost five of its top seven scorers. Only three players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game for the Cavaliers returned: Beekman (32.6), Isaac McKneely (21.5) and Ryan Dunn (12.9).

“He’s had to have a lot on his shoulders,” Bennett said of Beekman. “He’s had to play well on both ends for us to have a chance to be in games—not win games, be in games—and that’s a lot … I think he’s going to help someone else at the next level. I’m pretty certain of it.”

If the Cavaliers play again at JPJ this season, that’ll mean they missed the NCAA tournament. They were considered a bubble team heading into the regular-season finale, and the win over Georgia Tech (14-17, 7-13), the Hoos’ 12th straight in this series, bolstered their credentials.

“We’re in a race for something,” Beekman said, “so we just wanted to stay the course and come out ready to play.”

A loss to the Yellow Jackets might well have proved catastrophic, but Virginia went ahead to stay with 8:24 left in the first half and remained in control the rest of the way. The Cavaliers led by 23 with six minutes to play.

“Obviously, we’re all aware of how big this game was,” said junior swingman Taine Murray, who played 28-plus minutes off the bench and matched his season high with 12 points.

“That’s another good story,” Bennett said when asked about Murray.

Tristan How (center)

Now comes the ACC tournament, which starts Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where third-seeded UVA will have an opportunity to further strengthen its résumé.

As one of the top four seeds, the Hoos earned a bye into the quarterfinals. They’ll play in the 9:30 p.m. game Thursday against No. 6 seed Clemson, No. 11 seed Boston College or No. 14 seed Miami.

“I feel like we put ourselves in a great position for postseason play,” Beekman said Saturday night. “I think we’ve just got to build off this one today and try to get better.”

The Cavaliers experienced considerable turbulence during the regular season. Of their nine defeats, seven were by at least 16 points. Virginia lost by 25 to Duke last weekend.

“We’ve gotten knocked down pretty hard about six or seven times,” Bennett noted Saturday night, “and a lot of teams … they don’t get back up. But I appreciate how these guys got back up and stayed together. You get humbled, you eat your humble pie, and then you come back and fight and live with the results, and that’s what these guys have done. And I think they knew they had to do it tonight.”

Beekman said there have “been many times this season where we could have just kind of given up hope after a big loss, but I feel like after every hard loss, we came back and we got to work at practice extra hard.”

Led by Beekman (8 for 10), the Hoos shot 51.8 percent from the floor Saturday night. They hit 12 of 26 attempts from 3-point range, with McKneely making four treys and Beekman and Groves adding three apiece.

At the other end of the court, UVA held the Yellow Jackets to 40.4-percent shooting. Tech was 4 for 21 from 3-point range.

“We tend to, when we don’t make shots, we don’t stay aggressive,” said Damon Stoudamire, the Jackets’ first-year coach. “You can’t do that against Virginia … I think we can learn something from a team like Virginia.”

The game was stopped for the final media timeout with 2:25 remaining, after which the home fans started chanting, “We want Tristan! We want Tristan!”

With 47 seconds left, Bennett granted their wish, and How replaced Beekman, who left to a standing ovation. Moments later, the 6-foot-7 How grabbed a rebound, starting a possession that ended with his fourth career field goal.

“That was special,” Beekman said. “The amount of time and work Tris puts in, it goes unseen. But I see him late night sometimes, after practice, getting shots up, and for him to have that special moment on this special day just means the world.”

Bennett also called it “a special night,” and it was an occasion for Beekman to savor.

“I’m proud,” Beekman said. “I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of the team and the whole coaching staff. There’s been ups and downs, and I’ve never seen anybody giving up. We come to work every day and put the work in.”

Nobody has worked harder than Beekman, whose decision to return to UVA for one final season continues to pay dividends.

“I don’t want to think about this year without him,” Bennett said, smiling. “And we don’t have to, so that’s good.”

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