CHARLOTTESVILLE — Ty Jerome had already done his part for the Virginia men’s basketball team with a career-high 31 points when teammate Isaiah Wilkins leapt to deflect an inbounds pass in the closing seconds of the Cavaliers' ACC opener against Boston College on Saturday afternoon.
Wilkins then gathered the loose ball, swooped in for a dunk and pumped his fist, exulting in the moment. The frenzied packed house at John Paul Jones Arena celebrated what appeared to be the decisive stand that would allow the Cavaliers to escape with a win.
Then officials made ninth-ranked Virginia do it all over again, ruling the clock had started inadvertently.
In their second attempt with 3.1 seconds to play, the Eagles inbounded the ball successfully, but Virginia center Jack Salt drew an offensive foul on Nik Popovic, who used his free arm to push off.
After putting the ball in play to run out the clock on a 59-58 victory, the Cavaliers (12-1) finally were able to secure their 10th consecutive win in a league opener. Nine of those triumphs have come under Tony Bennett, who became the fourth coach in program history to reach 200 wins.
“That’s conference play,” Bennett said following a fifth straight victory over the Eagles (10-4, 1-1), who began their ACC season by upsetting then-No. 1 Duke, 89-84, on Dec. 9. “Fought for it . . . and made enough plays, but again Ty’s offensive performance carried us.”
Jerome, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, made 11 of 17 shots, including 6 of 9 from three-point range, to finish with the most points by any Virginia player this season. Jerome scored 19 points in the second half, including the Cavaliers’ final eight points, and put Virginia ahead for good with a three to make it 54-51 with 4:13 to play.
He also collected an offensive rebound with 23 seconds left after driving deep into the lane and delivering a pass to Wilkins (career-high 14 rebounds) for a clean look at a three-pointer that nearly went down before rattling off the rim.
Jerome entered Saturday’s game averaging 7.9 points and never having taken more than 11 shots in a college game. His point total was two more than in his past three games combined — and in one of those games he recorded his previous career high of 17 points. And it came a little more than three weeks after a one-on-one conversation with Bennett on the heels of Virginia’s only loss this season, a 68-61 defeat to No. 7 West Virginia.
Jerome had scored nine points with four turnovers in that game at WVU Coliseum, and the meeting served to reaffirm that Bennett’s confidence in him had not diminished.
“Yeah, I remember after the West Virginia game he sat down with me, and besides two turnovers at the end of the game and picking up my third foul, he said I did a good job in that game,” Jerome said. “I mean it’s always good when I’m on the same page as a coach like that, and he does a great job communicating with his players.”
Jerome also contributed defensively against the Eagles, helping to stifle their leading scorer, Ky Bowman. The sophomore guard ended with five points, his fewest in a game this season, and committed a game-high five of Boston College’s 13 turnovers.
Bowman entered averaging nearly 17 points per game, including a season-high 30 with 10 rebounds and nine assists against Duke.
Guards Devon Hall and Nigel Johnson also took turns defending Bowman, who did not score until there was 11:03 to play in the second half. Bowman made just 2 of 10 from the field and 1 of 5 from three-point range.
“They are just playing their defense,” Eagles Coach Jim Christian said. “They are not running anything different. I think they did such a great job on ball screens. They were very aggressive and physical with him. Wilkins made two great plays. Ky was maybe a little shy about going to the hoop.”
Virginia was anything but in the early stages, at one point holding a 10-0 margin in points in the paint. That supremacy inside helped the Cavaliers claim a 30-25 advantage at intermission.
But Boston College tied the game at 45 on Luka Kraljevic’s jumper and at 51 thanks to Jerome Robinson’s three-pointer with 5:16 to go. Robinson led the Eagles with 29 points, his most this season.
Bennett immediately called a timeout, and Virginia came out of the stoppage with an offensive set that enabled Jerome to gain separation for a three-pointer from well beyond the arc.
“He’s said it a million times in press conferences that his confidence never wavered,” Virginia guard Kyle Guy (11 points) said when asked about Jerome. “He plays very, very well in practice and very confident, and so this is not a new sight for us by any means.”