Boston — With Boston College clutching a double-digit lead over No. 6 Virginia late in the second half, the Conte Forum security staff huddled in a tunnel just off the court to prepare for the onslaught of fans that was all but inevitable.
The crowd knew. The Virginia players knew. Everyone in the building knew the Eagles were on the verge of the biggest win of coach Earl Grant’s tenure.
“I think they sensed, ‘Boy, I think we’re going to get these guys,’” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after BC beat the cold-shooting Cavaliers 63-48 on Wednesday night to send the sellout crowd streaming onto the court in celebration and, as a result, give the Miami Hurricanes the lead by themselves in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“As this thing wore on, you could feel the crowd get into it,” said Bennett, whose team shot a season-low 32% from the field against the BC defense. “They put us on our heels. It was a lot for some of our guys. We’ve got to learn from that, because of what we’ve got coming up.”
Makai Ashton-Langford scored 16 points and Jaeden Zackery had all 12 of his points in the second half for BC (14-15, 8-10 Atlantic Coast Conference). It was the Eagles’ third win over a ranked team this season, but the first over one in the top 10 since beating top-ranked Duke in 2017.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Grant, who is in his second year since moving to Chestnut Hill from the College of Charleston. “I thought the night was a great test. We were excited about the challenge; we were excited going into it. We knew it would be hard, but we wanted to see what we were.”
Jayden Gardner scored 16 points for Virginia (21-5, 13-4 in the ACC), which fell into a second-place tie with Pittsburgh in the ACC, one-half game behind Miami (23-5, 14-4). The Cavaliers, who had been as high as No. 2 in the AP Top 25, had won four in a row and 11 of their previous 12 games.
With the Cavaliers tied in the conference loss column with the Hurricanes, and Miami having won the teams’ lone meeting this season (66-64 on Dec. 20), it means UM only has to win its next two games to clinch the regular-season ACC title and the top seed in the conference tournament.
Those games are each at home, against Florida State (8-20, 6-11) on Saturday night and versus Pittsburgh (20-8, 13-4) the following Saturday in a game that could determine that ACC regular-season title.
Miami lost a previous meeting with the Panthers, 71-68 in Pittsburgh on Jan. 28.
Miami has won the ACC regular-season title only once in school history, 10 years ago.
Armaan Franklin, the Cavaliers’ leading scorer, and fellow guard Reece Beekman combined to go 4 of 18 from the field and miss all six of their 3-point tries. Virginia finished 4 of 21 (19%) from beyond the arc.
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The Cavaliers also shot 67% from the free-throw line, including back-to-back misses by Ryan Dunn that earned all 7,000 in attendance a free order of cheesy bacon fries.
That was all the encouragement the crowd needed.
And the players fed off it, too.
“The program is going up,” Zackery said. “Coming in against ranked teams, we feel like that motivates us more because, honestly, at that point, we don’t have anything to lose. They’re the ones that are ranked. We just come in, play our best.”
Virginia led early before BC took the lead for good midway through the first half, using an 11-2 run to open a 26-17 advantage. The Eagles made it a 13-point game early in the second.
Gardner hit back-to-back baskets midway through the second to make it 44-37, but Isaac McKneely missed a 3-pointer that could have made it a four-point game. Zackery responded by driving the lane, bouncing off a defender and rolling it in off the rim before giving a double-armed flex in celebration.
Then, after Kihei Clark missed a layup, Zackery hit a 3-pointer to give BC a 49-37 lead, earning a congratulatory shoulder-squeeze from big man Quinten Post. Bennett called timeout, but the Cavaliers never again got within single digits.