After an emotional home victory against Duke, UVA players and coaches stressed the importance of refocusing and taking care of business against Boston College. Still, the Hoos failed to avoid a letdown, coming out on the losing end of a 53-52 nail-biter. The team has followed up its three biggest home wins, against UNC, NC State, and now Duke, with meek road losses against bottom-tier ACC squads and now stands at 10-6 in ACC play with two games to go.
Like the two teams' early-season matchup in Charlottesville, BC and Virginia played a tight first half, with the Hoos clinging to a one point lead (they trailed by two at JPJ). And, also like that game, UVA came out of the locker room looking to pull away, as two Paul Jesperson threes and some stingy defense staked the team to a 40-30 lead. However, this time, Boston College scrapped back.
With 3:20 to play, Evan Nolte went under a screen and Patrick Heckmann knocked down a long-range shot to cut the lead to 49-46. Following an Akil Mitchell dunk, BC scored twice more and UVA regained possession up 51-50. After a missed shot, the Hoos made a big play when Jontel Evans grabbed an offensive rebound; BC was forced to foul Joe Harris, who made one of two free throws. However, the Eagles found an open Joe Rohan, who hit the go-ahead three-pointer while getting fouled with 8 seconds to play.
Rohan missed his free-throw, and the score remained 53-52, but the team followed with a possession that will be difficult to forget. Jontel Evans jogged the ball up-court without an apparent sense of urgency, arrived at the baseline, and dribbled the ball out of bounds. The buzzer sounded well before Akil Mitchell made a half-court heave, and the Hoos walked off the court with their two-game win streak snapped.
In a 53-possession game, the slowest of the Tony Bennett era, the team didn't play well enough to win on either side of the ball. Defensively, Virginia was sturdy at times, especially early in the second half, but lacked intensity and consistency in the first half and failed to get the stops they needed down the stretch. Allowing two late threes on lapses set the team up to lose.
On the offensive side of the ball, UVA struggled against the ACC's second-worst defense. Joe Harris had a rare off-night, finishing with 14 points on 4 of 11 shooting. Akil Mitchell attempted to fill the void, with 16 points on 8-11 shooting and 8 rebounds, but much of the rest of the team was stymied. 47% three-point shooting almost saved the day for the Hoos, but the team didn't have the production it needed from people not named "Akil" to overcome a cold Joe Harris and an off defensive day too. Virginia was just 7 of 13 on layups and 5 of 17 on two-point jump shots.
Jontel Evans's decision-making and execution on the game's final possession will be the main part of the game to come into question, and rightfully so. Jontel failed to hurry down-court, wasting valuable seconds, then found himself out of control and in a terrible position on the floor. Even if he didn't fall out of bounds, getting the ball to a scorer would have been difficult. However, players and fans must look at the game's first 39:52 as well, as the Hoos were unable to put away a team they are better than in a game they needed to have.
Weeks ago, Maryland beat Duke at home, then lost at BC, putting their NCAA hopes on life-support. Luckily, Virginia is in somewhat better shape than Maryland. And they still may be in marginal better shape than 2011 Virginia Tech, who also beat Duke at home (leading to Dick Vitale's exclaiming to Seth Greenberg, "Put your dancing shoes on!") but followed with a loss against BC, then on the road at Clemson and fell short of the Big Dance.
UVA faces two vital match-ups at Florida State and vs. Maryland. Win both, and the team should feel pretty good headed into the ACC Tournament and Selection Sunday. Drop one, and the Hoos will likely need to do some ACC tourney work to have a shot at a second straight NCAA invite. The loss at BC isn't quite the end of the world; but the Duke win looked to give UVA a bit of breathing room to finish the season, and that looks to have quickly dissipated. After a season that's featured a few too many "wake-up calls," there is no longer any room for another.