On Thursday afternoon, in a mostly empty Greensboro Coliseum, Reece Beekman hit a game-winning buzzer-beater to propel Virginia to a 72-69 victory over Syracuse in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. With the game-winner, Beekman joins the vaunted company of Tomas Woldetensae, Kihei Clark, De’Andre Hunter, Malcolm Brogdon, and Darius Thompson as recent Hoos to achieve the same feat. The first year guard was 0-for-5 from the field before his big shot and hadn’t made a three since February 10th at Georgia Tech, but none of that mattered in the moment.
Kihei Clark drove the lane with 3.5 seconds left on the clock, kicking it to Beekman as the seconds ticked down. The Syracuse defense had collapsed on Clark, hoping to keep the ball out of the hands of Sam Hauser (21 points), Trey Murphy (15 points), or Jay Huff (13 points).
Instead, Clark dished it to a wide-open Beekman on the perimeter. The 6-3 guard let it go with one second left on the clock. The buzzer sounded as the ball sailed through the air before falling through the center of the cylinder.
“It’s crazy,” Beekman told the media after the game. “That was my first ever game winner — walk-off game winner. So just hitting one of those for my team, it meant a lot.” Beekman has been a major contributor for the No. 1-seeded Virginia Cavaliers this season, but primarily on defense and as a distributor. Since the last time Syracuse and Virginia met in late January, Beekman was 2-for-17 from deep, including his 0-for-3 mark in the first 39 minutes and 59 seconds of Thursday’s game.
Beekman was understandably elated about his end-of-game heroics. “It was a whole lot of excitement, just a lot of energy that came over me. And a lot of joy.”
Syracuse came into the game with the same plan that several teams have tried to implement against Virginia late in the season: make Clark and Beekman beat you. It’s no secret that the Cavalier front court is extremely dangerous. Huff (41%), Murphy (43%), and Hauser (43%) are all shooting over 40% from deep and average 11 points per game or better for the season.
Against the Orange on Thursday, the back court duo obliged. Clark finished with 10 points, six assists, and one steal, connecting on 2-of-5 from three. Beekman had just three points, but added four assists, three rebounds, and two steals.
“He does impact the game with his feel, and he’s taking the challenge to try to be as good as he can defensively,” Tony Bennett said of his freshman point guard. “To stick that shot at that time, what an opportunity, what an experience for him.”
Teammate Sam Hauser was confident the shot was going in as soon as Beekman let it go, raising his hands in the air immediately. “I was kind of on the top of the key so I didn’t have a really good angle of it but it looked good after [it left] his hand,” Hauser said with a smile via Zoom. “I’m always hopeful, so I put my arms in the air and it went in.”
Both Clark and Beekman are consistently encouraged by their teammates to keep shooting, even when they aren’t falling. Seeing a big one like that go in could do wonders for Beekman’s confidence, something that would only help Virginia as they hope to make a lengthy postseason run.