By Jeff White (

DAYTON, Ohio — Its stay in this city was always going to be a short one, but the University of Virginia men’s basketball team hoped its next stop would be Charlotte, N.C. Instead, the Cavaliers packed up Wednesday morning for a flight back to Charlottesville, Va.

With the fifth anniversary of the greatest moment in program history approaching, UVA ended the season with a frustrating NCAA Tournament loss for the third time in four years.

The Wahoos, who captured the NCAA title in 2019, fell in the tournament’s first round as No. 4 seeds in 2021 and 2023. (The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the NCAAs in 2020, and UVA played in the National Invitation Tournament in 2022.)

Virginia scrapped its way into the NCAA Tournament field this season and was sent to Dayton for the First Four, where it was matched with another No. 10 seed, Colorado State. Their meeting was expected to be something of a coin flip, but the Rams dominated in every area, thrashing the Hoos 67-42 late Tuesday night at University of Dayton Arena.

“They imposed their will,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said.

Colorado State (25-10) advances to face Texas, the Midwest Region’s No. 7 seed, in a first-round game Thursday night in Charlotte. Virginia finished the season, its 15th under Bennett, with a 23-11 overall record.

The Hoos have advanced to the NCAA Tournament 10 times during Bennett’s tenure. This UVA team lacks the firepower of its predecessors, though, and was unlikely to make a deep run in the NCAAs.

Of Virginia’s regular-season losses, seven were by 16 or more points. Even so, the Cavaliers’ final defeat “was a hard way to go out,” Bennett said. “There’s no question about that … But I’m proud of these guys for getting us to this point. It is a hard tournament to qualify for, and you want to be playing your best when you get into it, and obviously we did not do that.”

Reece Beekman (2)

For the first 10 minutes, the game was competitive. With 10:30 left in the first half, sophomore guard Isaac McKneely made a 3-pointer that cut CSU’s lead to 14-12, and the Cavaliers appeared to have found their footing. But they scored only two more points in the half, on free throws by senior guard Reece Beekman at the 9:20 mark.

After shooting 5 for 29 (17.2 percent) from the floor, Virginia went into the break trailing 27-14. Only three Cavaliers scored in the first half: McKneely (six points), Beekman (four) and sophomore forward Ryan Dunn (four).

Still, Virginia’s deficit did not seem insurmountable, and “I thought the vibes in the locker room at halftime were pretty good,” McKneely said. “Obviously, we’re down 13 and only scored 14, but everybody was encouraging one another. That was definitely the motivation in the locker room at halftime, to come back and fight, because our season’s on the line. But credit to them. They made it hard to score, they’re a really good offensive team. They just outplayed us today.”

The Rams scored the first eight points of the second half, and the Hoos never seriously threatened thereafter. For the game, Virginia shot 25 percent from the floor, its lowest accuracy ever in an NCAA Tournament game.

Beekman, in the final game of his illustrious college career, was the only Cavalier to score in double figures (15 points), but he missed 12 of 16 shots from the floor.

At the other end, Beekman, the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year, all but shut down CSU’s best player, Isaiah Stevens, but Stevens’ teammates had their way with Virginia’s Pack Line defense.

“I thought our defense unraveled,” Bennett said.

The Cavaliers’ offensive woes contributed to their defensive breakdowns, said forward Jake Groves, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma.

“No question,” said Groves, who made only 1 of 8 shots from the floor. “As much we don’t want it to be, I think it’s in the back of everybody’s mind that it’s hard to play defense when you’re frustrated and be really locked in when you’re frustrated and just upset that your shots aren’t falling. Credit to them, but it’s just one of those games.”

On a night when Colorado State shot 55.3 percent from the floor, 6-foot-7 post player Joel Scott posted game highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds, and 6-foot-6 swingman Nique Clifford added 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

“Our guys came with a great edge, great focus, did a great job of playing together on both ends of the floor,” CSU head coach Niko Medved said, “and I thought as the game continued to go on, we just continued to be fundamentally sound and tough-minded.

“Listen, we felt like we had an opportunity to win here tonight, but that’s a Hall of Fame coach over there. That’s an incredible program, one that I have an unbelievable amount of respect for. And so I didn’t see this coming this way tonight at all. But I’m pretty pleased … What an incredible win for these guys and our program.”

From left: Isaac McKneely, Ryan Dunn, Jordan Minor, Reece Beekman

Beekman finished his UVA career with 1,195 points, 428 rebounds, 636 assists and 228 steals. He ranks first all-time at Virginia in steals and third in assists.

Bennett paid tribute to Beekman after the game. The loss stings, Bennett said, but “doesn’t change anything about this guy’s career and what he’s done. For four years I’ve never seen a guy get better and better. Someone’s going to be very fortunate at the pro level to have this guy.”

Beekman and center Jordan Minor joined Bennett at UVA’s postgame press conference.

“That was a tough way to go out,” Beekman said. “Didn’t imagine it to go that way at all. But I’m just blessed to have a career here of four years. I’ve been able to play since almost basically day one. I know that’s not usual.

“So I’m just looking back at it, happy about the experience, happy being back here doing my last year of college. It was just a blessing. I don’t want this game to define my whole season or my whole career. Yes, it’s tough, but I’m glad to be in this position.”

A graduate transfer from Merrimack, Minor was the only UVA starter to make at least half of his field-goal attempts Tuesday night. He was 3 for 4 from the floor and finished with seven points.

Minor said he felt “grateful and blessed” to have been part of the Cavaliers’ program this season. “I think in such a short time this has been family to me. I’ve just been embraced with open arms, and it’s been a blessing to be here.”

McKneely said he and his teammates knew that many who follow college hoops had questioned the Cavaliers’ inclusion in the NCAA Tournament field, “so it definitely hurts to go like that. That’s not what we wanted, of course, but I’m still proud of this team for what we did throughout the season. But I’m hurting for the seniors that gotta go out like that. It’s definitely tough, for sure.”

Only two UVA players averaged more than 8.1 points per game this season: Beekman (14.3) and McKneely (12.3).

During one memorable stretch of the regular season, the Hoos won eight straight games, a streak capped by an 80-76 victory over Florida State in Tallahassee. Late in the season, however, scoring often became an epic struggle for Virginia. The Hoos put up 47 points against Wake Forest, 41 against Virginia Tech, 44 against North Carolina, 48 against Duke and, finally, 42 against Colorado State.

Asked by Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist David Teel about Virginia’s offensive decline, Bennett said opponents “started really zoning off, gapping up on some guys and just making it so hard for Reece and Isaac. They kind of face-guarded, zoned off, and I want to say they got a little bit of a blueprint on how to bother us.”

UVA’s offense clicked periodically late in the season, but “we had to hit some shots just to give us a chance,” Bennett said.

Those shots didn’t fall against Colorado State, and a pivotal offseason lies ahead for Bennett and his staff. The Hoos, who finished the regular season third in the ACC standings, will lose at least three rotation players—Beekman, Minor and Groves—and are likely to look to the transfer portal for reinforcements. Two high school seniors signed with UVA in November: forward Jacob Cofie and guard Ishan Sharma.

“We’ve raised the bar really high here,” Bennett said. “We’ve qualified for this tournament, which is not an easy thing. We’ve done well. But it’s stung to get to this point and not advance.”

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