UVA needs to beat BC to assure itself an NCAA bid

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

The first time Virginia faced Boston College in a “must-win” game on Feb. 28, the Cavaliers gutted out a 72-68 road victory.

Two weeks later, UVA will meet BC again in a “must-win,” in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament (9:30 p.m., ESPN2). The winner will advance to the semifinals, but for Virginia, the stakes are much higher.

Some bracketologists have the Cavaliers, 22-9, squarely on the proverbial NCAA bubble, meaning “last four teams” in the tournament. A loss to Boston College would most likely knock UVA out of the field and into the NIT. A win should keep the Cavaliers safe for one of the 68 team bids.

Tony Bennett said that because his team has played in a couple of “must-win” games over the past two weeks, at BC and at home against Georgia Tech last Saturday night, the Cavaliers have faced similar pressure to tonight’s ACC Tournament game.

“The last number of games have been in that realm,” Bennett said.

For Boston College, it will be the Eagles’ third game in three days, so there could be a level of fatigue Earl Grant’s team will have to overcome. BC upset Clemson in the event’s second round in a late-night game on Wednesday.

Still, some of the Boston College players said they didn’t feel tired after beating Clemson.

“For me, I feel really good,” said BC big man Quinten Post after beating the Tigers. “I’ve been a little emotional these last few days because I realize that every one of these games could be my last. Just thinking back on all my years in college and especially my three years at BC and with this program and what my teammates have meant to me, they’ve meant the world to me.

“I told the guys, I’m not ready to be done, basically. So I really want to keep playing. After last game I said I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last game, and tonight, everybody played like it was their last game, and it showed. For me, I don’t feel tired. I’m really excited to play this next game.”

Another game 24 hours later could take its toll on the Eagles, who could be running on fumes by the time the game rolls around.

Virginia, which has advanced to the ACC semifinals in seven of the last nine seasons, has won 13 of its last 16 meetings with Boston College.

Post said there’s no doubt what the Eagles will have to do in order to get past the Cavaliers.

“The key to me is Reece Beekman,” Post said after beating Clemson. “I think [Beekman’s] a really good player. I think he really hurt us in the first game. We’ve got to find a way to stop him. I think if we do that and we play the way we played offensively tonight, we have a really good shot at beating those guys.”

Post was correct in his analysis of Beekman’s performance in the first game. The Virginia senior point guard scored 18 points, while grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists.

Beekman is coming off a 21-point game against Georgia Tech in a game where he had 9 assists. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight year, a feat only accomplished twice before since the award was created. He was also named to the All-ACC second team, a travesty in the eyes of Virginia fans and Bennett.

“Never has there been a point guard do that,” Bennett said of Beekman’s repeat as DPOY. “That’s remarkable to be a back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year and the only guard in the history of ACC basketball. Think of those fine players, those fine defenders.

“So the thing that was so amazing to me about Reece, is that he had to be right on both ends of the floor for us to be competitive in games. I think he had 64 more assists than any other point guard. He’s a first-team All-ACC player. I mean, come on, everybody knows that. I’ll just refer to him as a great job making first-team All-ACC.”

Beekman will again be asked to play lockdown defense against at least one of BC’s guards, who were outstanding in the upset over Clemson on Wednesday.

Claudell Harris scored 27 points for the Eagles and made 5 of 16 shots from the 3-point arc, while backcourt mate Jaeden Zackery added 22 points, 4 for 5 from the arc.

BC will have its challenges as well, trying to defend Beekman along with UVA shooters Isaac McKneely and Jake Groves, who scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, against the Eagles in the first meeting. Virginia shot 38 percent from the arc in that game. The Cavaliers are 14-0 this season when shooting 35 percent or higher from the 3-point line.

“They’ve got a great program,” BC coach Earl Grant said about Virginia on Wednesday night. “Coach Bennett does a great job. We’re just thankful. This has been an interesting year, been an interesting journey, and God kind of just keeps protecting us and guiding us through, so we’re just thankful.

“At the end of the day, we’re just happy to be playing. We’re going to come out with the best plan. We’ve got a lot of time to rest [Thursday]. We’ve got a lot of time to prepare and we’re excited. We’re just happy that we’re going to be playing another game and we get the chance to advance to that next round.”

Virginia, on the other hand, can’t be satisfied or be happy to be playing Thursday night. For the Cavaliers, it’s pretty much do or die. Win and make the NCAA field. Lose and miss the tournament.