Perhaps more than any other team in college basketball, the University of Virginia (18-4, 7-3 Atlantic Coast) has become known for its grit and intensity over the last few years. The Cavaliers play hard for the full 40 minutes, beating you methodically and grinding you down with multiple efforts. And as Matt Milon found out, UVA players continue to hustle hard, even in blowouts.
Deep reserve Justice Bartley’s thunderous block with less than a minute remaining dropped the freshman guard to the floor and punctuated UVA’s 61-47 victory over Boston College men’s basketball (7-15, 0-9) on Wednesday night.
Sammy Barnes-Thompkins led the way for BC with a career-high 14 points. He drilled four 3-pointers and was the team’s only player in double figures.
The game lacked flow for the entire first half, with UVA entering the locker room with a 29-20 advantage. Both teams struggled to penetrate deep into the paint, with a Dennis Clifford dunk with just over three minutes left before halftime serving as the game’s first points in the paint.
Barnes-Thompkins did virtually all of his damage in the first, scoring nine consecutive points for the Eagles on a trio of 3-pointers, the last of which he banked in from several feet beyond the arc. His mini outburst allowed BC to close within 23-18, the closest that it would get for the rest of the night. In his run, Barnes-Thompkins hit threes running off of a screen, as a spot-up shooter and off the dribble, displaying his full skill set. Still, the Eagles shot just 28 percent from the floor in the half.
They managed to stay in the game by making life hard on UVA’s offense. Forward Anthony Gill, the Cavaliers’ top post option, struggled during stretches of the first half as the Eagles doubled him, forcing him into difficult cross court passes. They closed off most of the driving lanes and kept UVA off of the offensive boards for the first 18 minutes of the game.
If it weren’t for Malcolm Brogdon, the Cavaliers would’ve been in serious trouble. Luckily, UVA’s quietly efficient senior leader took charge, scoring 17 of his game-high 27 points in the first half.
He finished a perfect 5-for-5 from 3-point range and 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
In the second half, UVA finally pulled away from the Eagles. After a pair of free throws from Garland Owens brought BC within eight points, the Cavaliers rattled off an extended 34-10 run over the next 15 minutes, running the score to 61-36 and effectively ending the contest. In its usual fashion, UVA methodically ran its offense in the half court, out-executing the Eagles.
Multiple times, BC defenders simply got lost in a maze of screens, allowing open jumpers.
Additionally, they struggled to keep UVA off of the free throw line. Despite his early struggles, Gill still finished with a double-double—10 points and 11 rebounds—and attempted 10 free throws. His size proved too much for Clifford and Idy Diallo, both of whom were in foul trouble almost the entire game. In addition to defense, these free throws allowed UVA to win a game in which only Brogdon made more than two field goals.
Defensively, BC managed only three baskets in the second half before the Cavaliers pulled their regulars at the last media timeout. They did attempt 16 free throws in the second half, but many of them came once the game was out of hand.
For once, the bad offensive performance didn’t stem from an abundance of turnovers. The team only had 11 turnovers, two fewer than Virginia. The real issue for the Eagles was their shot selection. They relied on far too many 3-point attempts, shooting 26 and making just eight. As a result, they shot 26.5 percent from the floor, the best mark for UVA’s defense in ACC play.
BC seemed to try to replicate last year’s game plan against the Cavaliers, with Ervins Meznieks filling the role of Patrick Heckmann. After Eli Carter was trapped coming off of ball screens, he would toss it back to Meznieks, looking for the Latvian freshman to make a play. As he has in all games during conference play, Meznieks struggled mightily, shooting just 1-for-9 from the floor. He failed to take advantage of the defense as it rotated back to him and often didn’t effectively move the ball to teammates.
Carter, who finished with seven points on just 2-for-10 shooting, was more deferential than usual in the early going, taking just two shots in the first half. He made the right basketball play when faced with a double team, but his teammates were unable to reap the benefits. On a team devoid of secondary options, even a seemingly advantageous offensive setup failed to produce points.
Much of the credit for this failure goes to UVA’s stellar defense, which held its opponent to 47 points for the second consecutive game. Rotations behind the ball were crisp, with Tony Bennett’s squad quickly cutting off any lane that appeared to be open. The team forced the Eagles to keep the ball on the perimeter, in a position where they really couldn’t do much damage.
Amid the blowout, BC closed the game on an 11-0 run, trimming the margin of defeat from 25 to 14, a slightly more respectable number. The run also pleased anyone who bet on BC for this game, as the Eagles entered the night as 23.5 point underdogs.
In this brutal stretch of the schedule, Vegas might be the Eagles’ only hope for a victory.
Featured Image by Steve Helber / AP Photo