Reece Beekman stepped into a 3-point jumper with the game tied and the clock expiring, and the least prolific 3-pointer shooter in Virginia’s starting lineup drained the clutch shot to send the Cavaliers past Syracuse and into the ACC semifinals.
“That’s tournament play,” UVa’s head coach Tony Bennett said. “Survive and advance is the saying. All right, we survived.”
The team’s reward for its 72-69 win over Syracuse? A date with Georgia Tech.
“Each game is gonna be a dog fight from here on out, for the rest of the season,” Beekman, a freshman guard, said. “We just gotta be prepared, be ready to play basketball.”
The Yellow Jackets meet the Cavaliers on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Georgia Tech, fresh off its first ACC Tournament win under head coach Josh Pastner, brings with it the ACC Player of the Year, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a seven-game winning streak.
Moses Wright, the ACC Player of the Year, only played 25 minutes in the team’s quarterfinal victory over Miami, a 70-66 triumph. He fouled out in the contest, finishing with seven points and six rebounds.
Even with the subdued stats, Wright is averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds per game over his last five contests.
Alvarado, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, left the first half of the win over Miami with a bruised right knee. He banged it against another player’s knee during the game, but returned to action after halftime. He limped noticeably in the second half, but expects to play against the Wahoos.
“Someone could screw his head off, he’d screw it back on and come play again,” Georgia Tech’s Jordan Usher said. “You don’t really have to check on him too much. You know he’s always going to be ready to battle.”
March moments like Beekman’s buzzer-beater live on for years, flashing across highlight packages and giving fans enduring memories. For a team competing in postseason play, however, those thrilling moments are quickly put in the rearview mirror.
Georgia Tech demands every bit of UVa’s attention.
The Yellow Jackets led by as many as 11 points in the second half of their 64-62 loss in Charlottesville on Jan. 23. When the two teams met in Atlanta two weeks later, Georgia Tech led by three points with 6:18 left before eventually falling 57-49.
“We owe ‘em one,” Usher said. “We definitely owe ‘em one. Getting a chance to get it back, that’s the basketball gods saying here’s your chance, go get it.”
In recent weeks, with their NCAA Tournament fate in the balance, the Yellow Jackets surged to fourth in the ACC standings. They beat Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Duke as part of their current seven-game winning streak.
The Yellow Jackets, playing their best basketball of the season, want revenge against Virginia. UVa knows it needs to refocus to avoid a semifinal exit.
“In this tournament setting, you got to move on pretty quickly because we got a game tomorrow,” redshirt senior forward Sam Hauser said.
Hauser led Virginia with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting against Syracuse. He excelled in the mid-range and paint, making all five of his 2-point shots. He also crushed Georgia Tech in the first meeting between the teams, scoring 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting. When UVa needed clutch shots, he delivered.
In the second meeting against Georgia Tech, Hauser scored a season-low eight points. He shot 57.1% in the game, but the Yellow Jackets forced the ball away from him. Alvarado hounded him, limiting touches and shot attempts.
Even with a banged-up knee, a sore groin and an ailing hamstring in recent weeks, Alvarado fully expects to leave everything on the floor Friday. If asked, he’ll guard Hauser again.
“Obviously I hurt my knee pretty bad today, but tomorrow I’m gonna act like I got a brand new knee,” Alvarado said. “It can’t hurt during the game.”
Beekman’s shot to beat Syracuse left UVa players, coaches and fans overjoyed. The team’s ACC Tournament run extends to the semifinals.
As a result, UVa plans to put Beekman’s buzzer-beater on the back burner. After a fun few hours, they’re onto the next challenge.