Reece Beekman had not hit a shot all day. The freshman had not hit a 3-pointer since Feb. 10 at Georgia Tech. He had not hit a walk-off game-winning shot in his life. When the Virginia basketball team needed a clutch shot at the start of postseason play, however, Beekman didn’t hesitate.
Beekman caught the pass from Kihei Clark on the right wing, let a 3-pointer fly in rhythm, and when it splashed through with the buzzer sounding, the Cavaliers owned a 72-69 win against Syracuse in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. All those had nots became a just did and his team advanced as a result. The Hoos are in the ACC Tournament Semifinals for the sixth time in eight years.
“That was my first ever like game winner – walk-off game winner,” Beekman said. “So just hitting one of those for my team, it meant a lot. It was a whole lot of excitement, just a lot of energy that just came over me. And a lot of joy.”
Beekman’s decisive shot came as part of a late flurry behind the arc for the Wahoos. They made 4 of their final 5 attempts from downtown after making 7 of 30 prior to those key shots late. While Beekman’s trey ended that stretch, the usual suspects knocked down the shots before that. Sam Hauser broke a 56-56 tie moments after he knotted the game with a pair of free throws. After an answer from Buddy Boeheim, who continued his strong play in the tourney with 31 points, Trey Murphy III stepped forward with a tiebreaker triple at the 3:34 mark. Boeheim answered with a two, but Murphy canned another long-range shot with 2:53 to go as the Hoos tried to put the game away.
Hauser and Murphy both have stayed above 40% shooting from 3-point range for most of the season so while they struggled at 3-10 and 3-11 in this particular game, those looks still represent good opportunities for the Wahoos against the Syracuse zone defense. Virginia coach Tony Bennett said on postgame radio that there is a fine line between getting stagnant with 3-point attempts – the 35 3-point attempts were a season high – and getting some variety through the high post and behind the zone too, but he said he felt like the shots UVA manufactured were mostly good looks.
“I think they made it a little harder to get in there. I thought we got some pretty good looks,” Bennett said. “We just didn’t shoot it as well. And when you’re not hitting the three ball, that zone starts either – it either tightens up a little bit and then you think you’ve got a look. You know they can take away some stuff. But we ran very similar stuff. It just comes down to being free and playing, trying to get the ball into the high post through a pass or attacking off the dribble or moving it quick and knocking down threes, getting some transition buckets, which we got the first time. So similar actions. Yeah, they shade off. They say, okay, we’re going to let Reece and Kihei shoot a little more. I thought they may be more mindful of keying to our shooters, but the shots were there, and just we didn’t shoot at the same efficiency.”
“I think they were focused more on the arc – I think they tried to run us off the 3-point line a little bit,” Hauser said. “I think they did a good job of it. But we stayed with it, shots started falling towards the end of the game. That’s why you stick with it, you stay resilient, and we made enough shots tonight to end up on top.”
Some of Virginia’s variety came from Hauser in the mid-post area (he had a key turnaround jumper with 2:07 to go), Huff at the rim (he had 13 points during a dominant first half and added 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots), and Tomas Woldetensae in limited minutes (a pair of 3’s and a pull-up jumper at the free throw line). Huff also fed Hauser for a couple of uncontested layups catching the ball in the high post area and turning to pass over the zone. The Wahoos also made 11 of 12 free throws.
Of course, Clark and Beekman also created some shots inside and out through their passing ability. The duo combined for 10 assists on UVA’s 25 baskets (25-55, 45.5%). Those passes included Beekman driving baseline in both halves to find Hauser for wide open 3-pointers, one in front of Syracuse’s bench in the first 20 minutes and one in front of Virginia’s bench in the final 20 minutes. It also included the game-winning play with the ball in Clark’s hands. He got past the top zone defender on the left side and then found Beekman for the win.
“I thought Kihei made the play to get it there,” Bennett said. “At the end, we wanted a quick – I said, Kihei just attack the lane. So maybe a quick little ball screen where we tried a few sets and they get on it. But I thought it was terrific what he did, Kihei. And I can’t tell you, so happy for Reece. He’s been through so much, and just overjoyed for him, of course the team. But there’s some special meaning for him and his mom being here and all that.”
The Cavaliers needed Beekman’s clutch shot and the offensive boost to overcome a hot start from Syracuse and a late bout with the Orange press that causes flashbacks for fans. Cuse opened the game on a 7-0 run and grew the lead to as high as 11 points at the 6:03 mark of the first half. A lot of the early offense came through offensive rebounds and the No. 8 seed ended up with 17 second chance points via 11 offensive rebounds. Still after building that 11-point advantage at 37-26, the Hoos cleaned up the rebounding issues to a degree and started to string together some stops.
The Orange scored just one bucket over the next 8:43, a stretch that spanned across the halftime break. In the end, Syracuse landed at 42.1% shooting (24-57) and other than Boeheim’s big day, there wasn’t consistent offense coming from anyone else. Quincy Guerrier had 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Robert Braswell added 10 but a lot of that production came in brief bursts. That allowed UVA to claw all the way to the lead and it shook off some back-and-forth action to take the lead with its late 3-point shooting.
That’s when coach Jim Boeheim went to his ace in the hole press for the final 1:45. That created a turnover and a dunk plus some other shaky moments, but Murphy got to the free throw line at the back end once and the Hoos narrowly avoided a 5-second call late as well. That was just enough to survive and advance at the ACC Tournament once again. The Hoos will face Georgia Tech on Friday night at 6:30 p.m.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s tournament play. Yeah, you know, you get an opportunity, and it is – survive and advance is the saying. We survived,” Bennett said. “We had – basically we gave up too many early second chance points, offensive rebounds, threes. We dug ourselves a hole, fought back at the end of the half, played some solid basketball, stretches of good defense, as well. … You’ve got to – you might fall into some ups and downs, but you’ve got to win the majority, and that’s sort of the mindset is get ready to play.”