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Five takeaways from UVA basketball’s near loss to Northeastern

What we’re taking away from whatever the heck that game was.

NCAA Basketball: Northeastern at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Well... I have no idea what that was. But the Virginia Cavaliers won a basketball game against the Northeastern Huskies 56-54, so we have five takeaways for the ‘Hoos.

Reece Beekman is clutch

21 points, 9-18 shooting, six rebounds, five assists, only one turnover, two steals, and the game-winning bucket with five seconds left. Just another day in the park for Reece Beekman.

Beekman was the only Wahoo to score more than eight points, he either scored or assisted on UVA’s last four baskets, and he scored four points in the last minute of play to take Virginia from down 54-52 to up 56-54. He was the only reliable source of offense all game long, and without him UVA would have a bad, bad loss on their resume that would carry with them for the remainder of the season.

Beekman is not just the best player on the team, he’s what makes it a good one. The pieces around him are undoubtedly talented, but nobody else can capably mesh the skill-sets on this team close to as well as he can. He makes plays and impacts games as well and as clutchly (yes I know that’s not a word) as anybody in college basketball.

Without him UVA would have a pair of Quad 4 losses already this season (the other potentially coming against West Virginia in Fort Myers). Beekman is one of the best guards to come through this program under Tony Bennett, and he reaffirmed his status again tonight.

Virginia escapes despite a bad performance against a bad team

Call it post exam rust, call it being out-muscled against a tenacious mid-major opponent hungry for a pick win, call it whatever you want. Virginia played a bad game against a bad Northeastern team and got bailed out by their senior leader late.

To some extent this is just December basketball and the fact that Northeastern had a player in Chris Doherty who was capable of exploiting UVA’s weakness at defending the paint. But it also speaks to the volatile nature of this roster and the fact that this group is young and especially inexperienced at playing together.

Of course, the Cavaliers are also banged up with Dante Harris out off the lineup and Andrew Rohde not having practiced much recently due to a nagging injury. That plus exam rust plus an opponent with the right combo of players to give Virginia problems and a defensive game plan to run the Wahoo shooters of the line spelled the chance for a big upset.

It seems silly to categorize this as a gutsy win that good teams win and meh teams lose... but this was the type of win that good teams manage to dig out and mediocre ones lose. A win’s a win’s a win, after all.

Interior defense and secondary offensive creation are still issues

This game displayed that the two biggest issues that UVA has had so far this season are still very present. Guarding the interior defensively and then creating offense outside of Beekman have been (at best) inconsistencies for this roster so far this season, and it very nearly bit the ‘Hoos in the butt against Northeastern.

Northeastern scored 32 of its 54 points in the paint. The offensive boards actually weren’t much of a problem after the first ten minutes — the Huskies only totaled six offensive rebounds and four second chance points. But Doherty’s presence (12 points, five assists, 6-10 shooting) as a post scorer who could create shots for his teammates when Virginia collapsed on him posed a major problem for the UVA defense especially early in the game.

Outside of Beekman, UVA shot 13-35 (37.1%) from the floor. Andrew Rohde had a nice six assists, but he shot 0-5 from the floor with Virginia’s four non-Beekman starters going 8-27 (29.6%) for 21 points on the night while the team only made two of 14 three-point attempts (14.3%). They made enough plays to win the game, but that’s not going to cut it against real competition.

Easy points elude the ‘Hoos

UVA shot 55.6% on free throws and 38.9% on layups against Northeastern.

Typically, those numbers lose basketball games.

Blake Buchanan continues to miss free throws (and miss them badly). While it’s worth it to give a true freshman some slack, a big guy who only really scores around the basket when people are going to be prone to fouling him needs to be able to not only finish through contact (which he doesn’t do well) but convert at the line when he gets there.

Beyond Buchanan, the poor shooting at the rim indicates that Virginia simply didn’t generate a lot of easy baskets, and the eye test backed that up. Eventually Beekman sliced and diced his way to the rim enough to produce some easy baskets late. But if the ‘Hoos are going to have nights when they shoot 14.3% from deep and opponents run them off the three-point line, then they need to convert more when given easy chances to score points.

UVA continues to live off opponent turnovers

Virginia scored 19 points off 17 Northeastern turnovers in this win. The ‘Hoos had eight steals and four blocks. This team is far from unfamiliar with making plays defensively, and they’ll be able to rely on Beekman and Ryan Dunn to end defensive possessions because of how ball-hawkish (I’m making up all kinds of words tonight) they are.

But man oh man teams that keep the ball out of harm’s way and manage to pound the paint are going to be able to have their way with this team (like Wisconsin did) unless things change. The extra possessions Virginia is generating by being pests defensively were absolutely huge against Northeastern. That’s just not the most sustainable way to win basketball games.

This might be a Men-in-Black-erase-your-memory type game once we’re into the heart of conference play. Even so, the issues that persisted in this game are the ones that the ‘Hoos are going to need either find answers to or find ways to limit the impact of if they’re going to be a competitive team on the national scale come February and March.