CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Mamadi Diakite drilled a jumper from the free-throw line, and a sizable contingent of UVa fans chanted “Let’s go Wahoos!”
Through the first 50 seconds of the game against Boston College, all signs were pointing up for Virginia.
Then the whistles came.
The first one, called on Diakite, came 41 seconds into the first half. The second one, called on Casey Morsell, came before the ball was inbounded after the first. The third came against Diakite 11 seconds later.
In came Jay Huff. Fast forward 15 seconds, and Huff was called for a foul.
Normally, Tony Bennett can rely on Diakite and Huff to provide quality minutes in the frontcourt. Against a relatively undersized team like Boston College, that would’ve been a recipe for success. The Cavaliers had to look elsewhere in their 60-53 loss to Boston College on Tuesday night.
Huff picked up his second foul with 14:42 remaining in the first half, which forced Bennett to use Justin McKoy and Francisco Caffaro at times. He stuck Huff and Diakite back on the floor in the first half, and Huff committed his third foul with 4:21 left in the first half.
Boston College (9-6, 3-1 ACC) jumped on Virginia (11-3, 3-1 ACC) with Diakite out. The shorthanded Eagles, who were without frontcourt star Nik Popovic and leading scorer Derryck Thornton, battled valiantly and performed well on the offensive end against an elite Virginia defense.
“They outplayed us, being shorthanded,” Bennett said. “We’re a team that if we’re not ready, if we’re not right, we’re not good enough to be sloppy in some of the areas of readiness, alertness, hustle plays. We can’t absorb us not being at a high level of readiness.”
The Eagles led 18-8 after the first 10 minutes of the game, relying on stellar defense from Jay Heath on Kihei Clark and efficient scoring from Jairus Hamilton. Hamilton and Heath combined for 17 first half points on 7-of-8 shooting.
“I thought we were kind of lethargic in the beginning of the game,” Clark said. “Once you dig yourself that big of a hole … it’s hard to get back in it.”
With two frontcourt stars battling injuries, Virginia leaned heavily on Braxton Key in the first half. He tallied 12 first-half points on 4-of-7 shooting. The rest of the team added 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Despite foul trouble and Key carrying the load, Virginia only trailed 30-26 at halftime.
The start of the second half was all Boston College. The Eagles played intense defense and hit shots, taking a 42-30 lead after a bank-shot 3-pointer from the top of the key by Heath and a layup from Jairus Hamilton.
Virginia rallied after those makes. The Cavaliers clamped down defensively, as the many Virginia fans in attendance screamed “U-V-A.” They also started to run in transition after missed Boston College shots.
Clark led the charge, pushing the ball up the floor. Kody Stattmann excelled, adding a few crucial buckets to help the Cavaliers cut the deficit to 45-42.
After a scramble for a missed shot, the ball was knocked around to Clark who stood wide open at the top of the key with the shot clock at two. He calmly shot the ball. It drifted perfectly through the basket, touching nothing but the net.
On the defensive end, Clark stripped a pass and found Diakite in transition. The redshirt senior scored through contact and added a free throw to give Virginia a 48-45 lead with 6:49 remaining. Virginia extended its advantage to a 50-45 lead.
Boston College answered, however, knotting the game at 50 on a 3-point-play from Heath with 4:28 on the clock.
“We started getting a good run, everyone got excited, our energy boosted a lot and by that point, we usually extend the lead, but they just came straight back at us, and we weren’t really expecting that,” Stattmann said.
Both teams traded blows in the final minutes. Boston College took a 53-51 lead after a floater from Heath and a free throw from Jared Hamilton. Virginia answered with a driving layup on the right baseline from Key to tie the game with 1:29 remaining.
Jared Hamilton nailed a 3-point shot in the corner off an assist from Heath to give Boston College a 56-53 lead with 37 seconds remaining.
UVa tried to answer with a 3-point attempt from the left wing, but Diakite’s shot missed long, and Boston College added free throws to ice it. In the final seconds, Key hit the floor holding his left wrist, adding injury to insult.
There was no immediate update on Key’s health. The Cavaliers hope he’ll remain healthy moving forward as they continue ACC play. They’ll focus next on improving from another disappointing road defeat.
“I think the tape’s gonna reveal some things that are gonna sting and hurt, but you move on and get ready for the next one,” Bennett said.