By Jeff White (

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Virginia Cavaliers arrived at their hotel in the nation’s capital around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. They had to wait another six hours to learn the identity of their quarterfinal opponent in the ACC men’s basketball tournament.

In the fourth and final second-round game at Capital One Arena, No. 11 seed Boston College pounded No. 6 seed Clemson 76-55 late Wednesday night. The Eagles (19-14) advance to take on No. 3 seed UVA (22-9) at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

The winner will meet No. 2 seed Duke or No. 10 seed NC State in the second semifinal Friday night.

The final quarterfinal will be a rematch of the regular-season game Virginia won 72-68 last month at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass. For the Wahoos, another win over BC would improve their chances of making the NCAA tournament, and a loss might prove devastating.

The Hoos will be facing a team that’s won four straight games, including two at this tournament. Boston College eliminated No. 14 seed Miami 81-65 on Tuesday night and then crushed Clemson, which had earned a first-round bye and is considered a lock for the NCAA tournament.

Only four of the players on the Cavaliers’ roster—Reece Beekman, Isaac McKneely, Ryan Dunn and Taine Murray—played in last year’s ACC tournament, and Murray’s role was limited.

For the many UVA players who have yet to experience the ACC tournament, head coach Tony Bennett said Tuesday at John Paul Jones Arena, there’s “not a lot you can say. You just try to prepare well in practice.”

During the regular season, games become more intense when ACC play begins, Bennett noted, “and the value of each possession increases. Then you get into postseason play … and you feel that a little more.”

The Hoos struggled late in the regular season against Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Duke, but they also recorded wins over Wake, BC and Georgia Tech in games they probably couldn’t afford to lose.

“And so I think hopefully that experience helps [in D.C.],” Bennett said. “Again, you can only control so much, and it’s just being as ready as you can and bringing it and then playing tough-minded and with a level of freedom in the game.”

Isaac McKneely (11)

McKneely, a sophomore guard who’s second on the team in scoring (12.4 ppg), said he and his teammates are “aware we’re on the [NCAA tournament] bubble, but we try to just tune that out and just control we can control. If we go in there and win a couple games, then I feel confident that we’ll be in, but we’re not bracketologists. We don’t choose who gets to be in, so we’re just gonna go out there [and compete]. Our goal is to win the ACC tournament, get the automatic bid. So that’s what we’re gonna go to try and do.”

Beekman said; “Of course we know where we’re at. I know myself, I try not to think about it too much. I think the guys don’t worry about it too much as well. So just build off last game and try to build momentum.”

The Cavaliers closed the regular season with a 72-57 win over Georgia Tech last Saturday night at JPJ. Beekman, as usual, led the way, totaling 21 points, six rebounds, nine assists, three steals and one blocked shot. Less expected was the contribution of Murray, a junior swingman who came off the bench to match his season high with 12 points.

“Everybody had their moments,” Bennett said, “but that really helped us, and he was physical. It’s not even always sometimes about making the shot. It’s about taking the shot and making the defense understand this guy’s capable.”

McKneely said he thought Murray’s “aggressiveness was the biggest thing that kept him on the floor. Obviously, he was scoring and making plays, but I think it’s just his aggressiveness to get downhill and his aggressiveness to take a shot when it’s there. I think that really opens up the offense. Because sometimes we’ve got open shots [that] maybe we’re passing up or something like that, and we can’t afford to do that. We got to take the shots when they’re there. And I thought Taine did a great job of coming off the bench and making an impact immediately with his aggressiveness and just his heart. He works so hard. He’s earned this, so I’m super proud of him for that.”

With Murray shining, Bennett chose not to play sophomore Andrew Rohde against the Yellow Jackets. Rohde, a transfer from St. Thomas (Minn.) whose production dipped late in the regular season, has started 27 games for Virginia, and he’s “helped us get to this spot,” Bennett said.

“I thought about using Andrew in that game, but we just shortened the rotation with Dante [Harris] and Taine, and then at times we used [a bigger lineup].”

His message to all of his reserves, Bennett said, remains the same. “Practice well, be ready, because different games call on different things.”

Ryan Dunn (13)

Virginia shot 12 of 26 from 3-point range against Georgia Tech. For the season, though, the Hoos are averaging only 6.5 made 3-pointers per game. It helps to be hot from the perimeter, Bennett said, but the Cavaliers can’t count on that every time out.

“That’s why with every team, but [especially during] tournament play, you have to know what the defense is going to bring,” Bennett said. “I kind of look at it with this team, when we’ve been a little off defensively, we haven’t been able to win. Maybe Florida State, that one game, but [defense] has to be the constant … You know the saying: Shooting covers over a multitude of sins, and you want that, but you don’t rely on it.”

UVA has two of the nation’s premier defenders in Beekman, a 6-foot-3 senior, and Dunn, a 6-foot-8 sophomore who’s blocked a team-high 73 shots.

Beekman is one of only three players in ACC history to be named the conference’s defensive player of the year in back-to-back seasons, and he’s the only guard in that elite group. Dunn also was named to the ACC’s All-Defensive Team.

“It means a lot,” Beekman said. “I think it just goes to show the work that I put in over the four years that led up to it. Like I said at the beginning of year, I knew it was gonna be a battle between me and Ryan, and I honestly didn’t know who it was gonna come down to, but I’m glad to get to award and I’m glad he got his recognition as well.”

Making Beekman’s feat even more impressive is that he dominated defensively while carrying an enormous load at the other end of the court. He’s first on the team in scoring and assists.

“The thing that was amazing to me about Reece that I was so proud of,” Bennett said, “is he had to be right on both ends of the floor for us to be competitive in games, and it forced him [to grow as a player].”

Now comes Beekman’s final ACC tournament. In his first one, he hit a last-second 3-pointer to lift Virginia to a victory over Syracuse.

Over the years, Beekman said, he’s learned that postseason games often come down to which team makes fewer mistakes. “If we do a good job with that, I think I like our chances,” he said, “and we’ve just got to come prepared for anybody that we play.”

As a boy growing up in West Virginia, McKneely recalled Tuesday, he dreamed “of playing in the ACC tournament or March Madness, so I was really nervous going [postseason last year].”

A year later, he’s focused on controlling “what I can control and just playing my hardest,” McKneely said. “That’s all you can do. So that’s what I’m going to do.”

When UVA and BC finally take the floor at the end of the long day at the Washington Wizards’ arena, both will have much to play for. The Eagles know they have to leave D.C. as ACC champions to earn an invitation to the NCAAs. The Cavaliers know they have an opportunity to strengthen a résumé that’s not overly impressive.

Still, McKneely said, he’s trying not to dwell on the implications of Virginia’s rematch with BC.

“It’s just another game,” he said. “Obviously, the stakes are a little bit higher, but we’re just trying to go in there with a clear mindset and just see it as just any other game and I think we’ll be all right.”

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