By Jeff White (

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The next two days figure to be nerve-wracking for the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, whose postseason fate lies with the NCAA tournament selection committee.

“I think we’ll get a shot,” sophomore guard Isaac McKneely said late Friday night at Capital One Arena, “but it’s always an interesting time, because you don’t truly know.”

It didn’t have to be this way for UVA. With a win over NC State in the ACC semifinals, the Cavaliers almost certainly would have assured themselves a trip to the NCAAs, and they led by six with 45 seconds left in the second half.

For the second night in a row, however, the Wahoos’ opponent hit a last-second shot to force overtime. The Hoos steadied themselves in the extra period Thursday and pulled out a 66-60 win over No. 11 seed Boston College, but they were unable to write a similar ending against No. 10 seed NC State.

UVA went ahead three times in overtime—at 61-58, 63-62 and 65-64—and the Wolfpack regained the lead each time. State scored the game’s final nine points to secure a 73-65 win.

NC State (21-14) advances to meet top-seeded North Carolina (27-6) in the championship game. The Wolfpack is trying to become the first team in ACC tournament history to win five games in five days.

Virginia (23-10) heads home Saturday uncertain what the NCAA selection show will bring Sunday night. Head coach Tony Bennett said he believes the Cavaliers showed, with their body of work, that they belong in the NCAAs, but he added that “no amount of politicking” from him was likely to sway committee members one way or the other.

“They’re going to get behind closed doors,” Bennett said, “and you trust that they’ll look at it and see the eye test and all those things.”

In UVA, the selection committee will see a flawed but gritty team that clawed its way to a third-place regular-season finish in the ACC. In his 15 seasons at Virginia, Bennett has had teams with more talent, but this one, led by senior guard Reece Beekman, demonstrated its resilience time and again.

“Of course, we’re not the flashiest team,” Beekman said, “but I feel like we’ve got the pieces and we’ve got the résumé to [merit an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament].”

Isaac McKneely

Perhaps the Hoos’ biggest weakness this season has been their free-throw shooting. For the season, they’re shooting 63.7 percent from the line, the program’s lowest mark since 1967-68, and they struggled in that area in their two games at the Washington Wizards’ arena.

“Hopefully we get a chance to keep playing and we’ll knock them down when the next opportunity comes,” Bennett said.

The Cavaliers missed 10 of 18 foul shots Thursday night against Boston College. They were 6 for 11 from the line against NC State, and four of those misses came in the final 70 seconds of the second half.

First, after Wolfpack center DJ Burns Jr. was called for a flagrant foul with 1:10 remaining and UVA leading 57-52, Beekman went to the line for two shots.

“We definitely had the chance there to get some separation,” Beekman said.

He missed both, but the Cavaliers retained possession, and Beekman was fouled again with 51.4 seconds to play. After making the front end of a one-and-one, he missed the second free throw and Pack guard Casey Morsell was fouled at the other end while attempting a 3-pointer.

Morsell, who began his college career at UVA, calmly sank all three free throws to make it 58-55. The teams then traded misses from 3-point range, and McKneely was fouled with 5.3 seconds left after grabbing a defensive rebound.

With a chance to seal the win for the Cavaliers, McKneely missed the front end of a one-and-one. Morsell pulled down the rebound and passed to teammate Michael O’Connell, a guard who raced up the court with the ball. The Cavaliers had three fouls to give before the Pack would starting shooting one-and-ones, but Bennett opted to play it out, trusting his team would get one final stop.

Instead, McConnell banked in a long 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired to make it 58-58.

“They threw in a tough shot,” Bennett said.

McKneely said: “It kind of takes the breath out of you. It’s hard to think you have the game won, especially [when] I’m at the free-throw line, have a chance to win it, and I couldn’t do it. I’ll look back on it, get back in the lab, get back on the free-throw line, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to ice a game some other times.”

Given new life, the Wolfpack went repeatedly to Burns in overtime. A mammoth presence at 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, he scored seven of his team-high 19 points in the extra period. Throughout the game, the Hoos rarely opted to double-team Burns, who’s a deft passer, and he had his way inside, despite the best efforts of 6-foot-8, 242-pound Jordan Minor.

“It was physical,” Bennett said. “Jordan certainly was working his tail off.”

Virginia and NC State split their two regular-season meetings, each winning at home, and from those games, Minor said, he knew Burns would get the ball a lot Friday night.

“So I just wanted to make it as hard on him as I could,” Minor said. “He’s a great player. I think that he kind of got away with some walks and some cheap ones, but that’s just how the game goes sometimes.”

Taine Murray

McKneely, playing on a sore ankle, hit 5 of 9 shots from beyond the arc and led all scorers with 23 points. Beekman, a two-time selection as ACC Defensive Player of the Year, contributed 17 points, 11 assists and two steals.

“These two guys up here with me on the podium played their hearts out,” Bennett said during Virginia’s postgame press conference, at which Beekman and McKneely joined him. “Man, did they battle. They fought.”

The Cavaliers were looking to advance to the ACC championship game for the fifth time in Bennett’s tenure. They’ve won the tournament twice under Bennett: in 2014 and in 2018.

Minor, a graduate transfer from Merrimack, pulled down nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Ryan Dunn, with 10 points and nine rebounds, nearly recorded a double-double, and junior swingman Taine Murray, in his first college start, scored eight points, all in the second half.

“Obviously, a terrific, hard-fought game,” Bennett said. “We felt like we had it.”

Dunn said he probably wouldn’t be able to sleep back at the team hotel, “because I feel like I was a big part of the mistakes that happened tonight. I gave up some key plays that I probably shouldn’t have given up. But if we get that chance [in the NCAA tournament]—or when we get that chance—we’re going to have to put it behind us and focus on the next team that we play.”

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