Virginia vs. Boston College: Cavaliers wilt down the stretch in 53-52 loss to Eagles

The Virginia men’s basketball team arrived at Boston College Sunday riding a wave of momentum the program hadn’t felt in more than a decade, the result of an upset over No. 3 Duke three days earlier.

The Cavaliers left with a star player miffed over an uncharacteristically poor shooting night, a head coach forced to second-guess his decisions down the stretch and a costly turnover on the final possession.

Less than 72 hours after celebrating its biggest win of the season, Virginia suffered a humbling 53-52 setback at Boston College, coughing up an 11-point lead over the final 11 minutes. The defeat left the Cavaliers perched perilously on the NCAA tournament bubble once again.

“This loss stings as bad as any one this season,” junior Joe Harris said after Virginia fell to 3-8 away from John Paul Jones Arena. The winning points came courtesy of a three-pointer by Boston College’s Joe Rahon (team-high 15 points) with 8.2 seconds remaining.

A meltdown by Virginia set up the heroics.

The Cavaliers led by five with 2 minutes 17 seconds remaining following a dunk by forward Akil Mitchell (game-high 16 points, eight rebounds).

Things unraveled from there.

A dunk by Boston College’s Eddie Odio, after he looked to be trapped along the baseline, trimmed the deficit to three. Eagles guard Olivier Hanlan then scored a fast-break layin following a missed jumper by Harris. On Virginia’s ensuing possession, point guard Jontel Evans missed a teardrop in the lane, but somehow managed to call a timeout in the scrum for the rebound.

At that point, it looked as if the Cavaliers might escape with a victory. But Harris, a 77.8 percent free throw shooter, missed the second of two free throws with 29 seconds remaining.

It gave Rahon an opening to score the deciding basket.

“As a leader of the team, I can’t be missing,” said Harris, who also missed a crucial free throw in the waning moments of a loss at Miami last month. “I just left it short.”

It was part of a frustrating afternoon for Virginia’s leading scorer, who scored a career-high 36 points against Duke.

The ACC’s leader in field goal percentage entering Sunday, Harris finished with 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting, including one jumper that hit nothing but the backboard to begin the second half.

He struggled to explain his inaccuracy.

“He was off. He wasn’t himself,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said.

Still, the Cavaliers had one final chance to escape with an elusive road win. Rahon was fouled on his game-winning three-pointer by Virginia freshman Evan Nolte, and missed the ensuing free throw. But rather than call his final timeout, Bennett allowed point guard Jontel Evans to dribble up court, having already set up a play in which Evans would come off a ball screen and try to find Harris in the corner for a three-pointer.

Instead, Evans got trapped on the sideline and lost the ball out of bounds with 0.4 of second left. Bennett said he feared Boston College Coach Steve Donahue would go to a zone defense if he used a timeout, but conceded, “perhaps I should’ve called timeout.”

Bennett also questioned whether he should have used sophomore Paul Jesperson more in the waning moments, rather than play freshman Justin Anderson and Nolte for defensive purposes. Jesperson (nine points) hit two three-pointers that helped stake Virginia to a 43-32 lead midway through the second half. He did not play the final 7:23.

Mitchell intercepted Boston College’s final inbounds pass and managed to connect on a heave from just beyond half court. Alas, it came well after the final buzzer had sounded and Mitchell fell to the ground, his hands over his face as he thought, “You gotta be kidding me.”

“It’s the old ABC commercial,” Bennett said. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

Mark Giannotto covers Virginia and Virginia Tech for The Washington Post.
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