By Jeff White (

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Starting in 1996, the Virginia Cavaliers went nearly two decades without advancing to the semifinals of the ACC men’s basketball tournament.

Such futility is now a fading memory for a program that head coach Tony Bennett has built into one of the nation’s most consistent winners. After defeating Boston College 66-60 in overtime, UVA is in the ACC semifinals for the eighth time in the past 10 tournaments.

Rarely, though, have the Wahoos celebrated a quarterfinal victory with as much gusto as they did late Thursday night. For a team whose goal is a return trip to the NCAA tournament, this was a game it needed to win, and Bennett pumped his fist in associate head coach Ron Sanchez’s direction when the final horn sounded at Capital One Arena.

“Obviously, a meaningful game,” Bennett said as midnight approached.

“I think everyone knew what was at stake,” UVA center Jordan Minor said, “but at the same time, we kind of put all that noise to the side and we wanted to play this game for each other, everyone in this locker room, from the coaching staff to the players to the managers. I think we all knew what we wanted to do: come out here with a W and advance, and we kind of did that for each other.”

In his ACC tournament debut, Jake Groves, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, led the Hoos with his first double-double (15 points, career-high 11 rebounds). Everyone in the program grasped the “significance of this game,” Groves said, “with it hopefully being the game that could punch our ticket.”

A chance for the Hoos to further strengthen their résumé will come late Friday. At 9:30 p.m., No. 3 seed Virginia (23-9) meets No. 10 seed NC State (20-14) in the second semifinal. The Wolfpack upset No. 2 seed Duke 74-69 in the third ACC quarterfinal.

“It’ll be a good one,” Groves said. “It’s been a while since we’ve played them, and they’re playing really well right now.”

A win over NC State would send the Cavaliers to the ACC championship game for the fifth time in Bennett’s 15 seasons as their head coach.

As one of the tournament’s top four seeds, UVA received a double bye. NC State had no such luxury, and head coach Kevin Keatts’ team will be playing for the fourth straight day when it takes the court Friday night.

The Pack beat No. 15 seed Louisville on Tuesday and No. 7 seed Syracuse on Wednesday before upending Duke on Thursday night.

Virginia split its two regular-season games with State. The first wasn’t close. At PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., the Wolfpack won 76-60. In the rematch, 18 days later in Charlottesville, Va., the Cavaliers edged NC State 59-53 in overtime.

That was UVA’s first overtime game of the season. The second came on a bigger stage, against a BC team playing for the third time in three nights.

If the 11th-seeded Eagles were tired, it wasn’t apparent for most of a game that tipped off at 9:41 p.m. BC led 35-29 at halftime and 53-49 with seven minutes left in the second half.

“I just thought they hit us in the mouth first,” Bennett said, “but we stayed the course, got some stops, and then got to it.”

Jordan Minor (22)

In a season marked by their shaky performances from the line, the Cavaliers had another one Thursday night. They missed 10 of 18 free throws. “We’re saving them until we need them,” Bennett said, tongue in cheek. “That’s part of the deal.”

At the other end, though, Virginia locked in, and BC (19-15) couldn’t pull away. After 7-footer Quinten Post scored inside to put the Eagles up 55-53 with 5:20 left in the second half, UVA allowed only two field goals the rest of the way.

“That was winning time,” said senior guard Reece Beekman, a two-time selection as ACC Defensive Player of the Year. “We were playing for something, for our NCAA tournament bid. At the end of the day, we know that, and I think that was in the back of everybody’s minds today.”

With 2:55 left in regulation, UVA guard Isaac McKneely sank 2 of 3 from the line to tie the game at 55-55. Those were the first points for the 6-foot-4 sophomore, who like teammate Dante Harris had left practice with a sprained ankle Monday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena.

With one minute left in the second half and the score unchanged, Minor missed two free throws, and the UVA fans in the crowd of 17,627 groaned. They cheered when Groves calmly made two foul shots to put Virginia up 57-55 with 29.2 seconds remaining.

The lead didn’t last. Virginia forced a miss, but BC grabbed the offensive rebound, and guard Mason Madsen’s jumper as time expired sent the game into overtime.

The Hoos, unfazed, regrouped in front of their bench. “Obviously, it’s tough when they hit a shot like that, but I think we just have confidence in everyone,” Virginia swingman Taine Murray said.

In the extra period, UVA went ahead to stay on a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer by McKneely, his only field goal of the game. Another trey, this one by Beekman, made it 63-57 with 1:54 left in OT.

Beekman, who finished with 11 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, was 4 for 16 from the floor when he attempted that shot.

“I was like, ‘Finally!’ ” he said, smiling. “Just a lot of missed shots today. That was a big shot for the team, and just to finally hit that was a sigh of relief.”

Boston College cut its deficit to three in the final minute on guard Claudell Harris Jr.’s fourth trey, but Minor’s layup pushed Virginia’s layup back to five, and the 6-foot-8 graduate transfer from Merrimack went 1 of 2 from the line to close out the scoring with 14.3 seconds on the clock.

Taine Murray (10)

Bennett hasn’t hesitated to change his lineups this season, and freshman center Blake Buchanan started Thursday night for the first time since Jan. 6. After making 16 straight starts, Minor found himself coming off the bench, and he turned in a memorable performance.

Minor’s final line—three points, four rebounds, three steals, one blocked shot—belied his impact. His defense on Post (23 points, 13 rebounds) proved crucial in the Cavaliers’ comeback. Post went scoreless in the game’s final 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

“He did a great job on me, especially at the end,” Post said. “I think I played 41 minutes, and at the end I was feeling it a lot in my legs, and Jordan came in fresh, and I think he did a really good job on me. He made it hard for me.”

Three players scored in double figures for Virginia: Groves, Beekman and Murray, who came off the bench to chip in 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Murray, a 6-foot-5 junior, was coming off a 12-point night in UVA’s regular-season finale.

“Taine picked up where he left off from our last game and then just carried it,” Bennett said, “and we knew we were going to need that.”

Also pivotal were the contributions of Dante Harris, who made two clutch jumpers in the second half, and Andrew Rohde, who scored eight points in 25-plus minutes off the bench.

A transfer from St. Thomas (Minn.), Rohde has started 27 games this season, but Bennett opted not to play him last weekend in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech at JPJ. Rohde didn’t sulk.

“Just sticking with it,” Rohde said of his mindset going into postseason. “Stay confident, stay ready to play. When you hear your number called, just go out there and try to do whatever you can do to help the team. I’m playing for all of these guys. I’m playing for these seniors. So whatever I can do, I’m going to put my heart on the line for them.”

As the Cavaliers’ first game in D.C. approached, Bennett wasn’t sure if McKneely or Harris would be available. But both participated in Virginia’s shootaround Thursday afternoon at Gallaudet University, and both were determined to play against BC.

“It was a big game for us,” Harris said, “so we were gonna do whatever we had to do to play.”

There were several worthy candidates, but to Minor went the honor of applying the Virginia logo to the large tournament bracket posted on the wall near the locker rooms at the arena.

“For me, it was a very special moment,” Minor said. “But it was more of a special moment to be able to do that for my team. And for us to be able to advance collectively as a team.”

Thursday had given way to Friday by the time the Hoos packed up and headed back to their hotel. They were tired but elated.

“We left it all out there,” Beekman said. “I know we’ve still got another one, but it was good to get that one.”

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