The Virginia basketball team continued its version of the scoring shell game – who’s the leader going to be? – and put together arguably its most complete defensive effort of the season to put away Boston College, 61-49, on Saturday afternoon. The Cavaliers surged late in the first half and kept the Eagles at arm’s length the rest of the way to improve to 3-0 in the ACC.
After falling on the road at BC last season near this same calendar date, securing the victory this time in Conte Forum helped the Hoos continue to build some momentum in the early stages of conference play this season. UVA has won 10 of its last 12 meetings with Boston College.
“When I came in the locker room, I said I’m going to give you guys a history lesson because you guys are young and you forget, but last year I said they were without a key player or two … and I said we were not right, we didn’t play well,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “I said be ready, every game is significant. … We talked about that a lot. I liked the mindset. The bench again had a lot to do with that with their energy and, of course, the guys on the floor.”
Offensively, this game churned up memories of some stinker games of years past in Conte Forum for a long stretch in the first half, but the Hoos managed to overcome the drought with a strong 31 minutes otherwise. The period in question produced a scoring drought of 8:44 as Virginia missed 6 layups and 2 3-pointers, while committing 4 turnovers. Of those missed layups, BC blocked 4 shots near the rim all during a 2-minute span. Those turnovers accounted for more than half of the total (7) for the entire game.
In other words, that stretch in the game hurt the overall numbers and kept the Eagles in it on the scoreboard. The hosts put together a 17-2 run at that point and led 25-18 as a result after trailing 18-11 in the opening minutes. The Cavaliers featured a couple of unexpected lineups for part of those minutes as they dealt with missing personnel for the second straight game, but forcing shots near the rim and turnovers compounded the issues.
Fortunately, the under-4 minute media timeout in the first half allowed Bennett to refocus the team and the Hoos responded with an 11-1 run to close the half. Kihei Clark helped spark the turnaround with a pair of assists after the timeout. He caught a pass near the free throw line against BC’s matchup zone and kicked out to a Trey Murphy III 3-pointer to stop the scoring drought. On the next trip, he dribbled down the lane, circled around under the basket, and then lofted an alley-oop to Jay Huff for a dunk.
“I said make some shots,” Bennett said with a laugh. “I said you’ve got to be aggressive. We’re standing, we’ve got to move the ball. We tried to spin the wheel a little bit, hey let’s look at this action, let’s look at that – [then] I said screw it. I said we’re going to do what we started the game with. You’re going to have to figure it out. You’re going to have to touch the paint, you’re going to have to get the shots, and stop letting the ball stick. Then I think we hit a 3, got a play, and had a good surge.”
Once those two plays hit the reset button, the visitors closed the half strong and then built their advantage further after the break. By the end of the game, the Wahoos shot 45.3% (24-53) from the field, which included 48.3% shooting (14-29) after intermission. They also made 9 of 10 free throws so despite shooting just 26.7% from 3-point range (4-15), there was more than enough offense to get the job done in those other 31 minutes.
Huff did a lot of damage near the basket as his size overwhelmed Boston College for large parts of the game. He hit 7 of 11 shots and 4-4 free throws as he led the team in scoring. That matched his career high with 18 points. Huff set the tone in the first half with 10 points, 5 blocked shots (he finished with that total, a season high), and 3 rebounds. That ended up at 18 points and 8 rebounds. It was his seventh multi-block game of the season.
Hauser and Clark supported that effort with double-digit scoring outings too. Hauser posted his third straight double-double to open ACC play with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He made 5 of 10 shots inside the arc and 2 of 6 shots from 3-point range. Clark chipped in 12 points on 6-8 shooting with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. He consistently helped break down the Eagle zone from the interior. Murphy chipped in 8 points too, while Reece Beekman had 4 points and 3 assists. Clark and Beekman combined for 6 assists and only 1 turnover.
When it all shook out, Huff was the seventh different scoring leader this season (Murphy – 21 Towson, Beekman/Justin McKoy 11 – San Francisco, Kadin Shedrick 12 – St. Francis, Hauser 18 – Kent State, Clark 19 – Notre Dame, Huff 18 – BC).
“I mean I felt good about the start,” Huff said. “To be honest, I feel like I probably dropped my shooting percentage today just because I missed a few chippies, few easy ones or just some that I would like to make, but it still felt good to just have a good strong first half and then I wanted to make sure I led that into the second half. The blocks were, I didn’t realize I had that many so that was good to hear as soon as I came out of the locker room after the game. But it certainly helps to get off to a good start.”
With Huff’s blocks in the first half setting the initial tone, the Cavaliers eventually put together what might have been their best defensive performance of the season. They held the Eagles to 30.9% shooting overall (17-55) and 28.6% shooting from 3-point range (6-21). DeMarr Langford led his team with 14 points on 5-7 shooting, while Rich Kelly added 10 points on 4-8 shooting. The Hoos hounded Jay Heath, CJ Felder, and James Karnick into rough days though as that trio shot 2-10, 3-7, and 2-12 respectively. Heath had two double-digit scoring games against UVA last season, but Beekman, Murphy, and others led the effort to slow him down this time.
For only the second time this season, the effort extended across both halves. BC shot 31.3% (10-32) in the first half and 30.4% in the second half (7-23). That marked the first time this season that an opponent shot below 35% in both halves and just the second time an opponent shot below 40% in both halves. William & Mary, who posted 40 points, was the other example with 18.5% shooting in the first half and 39.1% in the second half.
The only real chink in the Pack-Line for this ACC contest was on the glass where Boston College grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and came up with 15 second chance points. That was similar to the W&M game too as the Tribe had 14 offensive rebounds but only scored 2 second chance points. Still, there are clear signs that the defense is improving as the games continue.
“I think, and this is true of most of the teams that I’ve been a part of, it’s been a growing process,” Huff said. “We have, kind of the start of the year, where you know there’s a few bumps. There’s sometimes where we haven’t quite figured out how to play, just the defense that we play together yet just because it’s a rotating cast of characters. But, once we figure it out, it happens every year, once we figure it out and I think today was a really good step in that direction, we can really just get to what we know we can do and what has been done traditionally in this program.”