Photo Courtesy of Boston College Men's Basketball / Twitter

Eagles Ride Defense to Take Down Defending National Champs

It all came down to the defense.

Boston College men’s basketball gave defending national champion Virginia a taste of its own medicine on Tuesday night, coming away with a gritty upset 60-53 victory over the 18th-ranked Cavaliers. The Eagles held UVA to just 53 points, playing a full 40 minutes of high-intensity defense to shut down a team that is known for holding opponents to low scores.

It was a true team effort for the Eagles, who were missing two of their typical starting five. Guard Derryck Thornton sat out with an ankle injury and Nik Popovic missed his sixth straight game due to a back issue. 

Forward Steffon Mitchell had battled flu-like symptoms all day and was questionable to play up until just before tip-off. He suited up and posted a typical Steffon Mitchell stat line: 10 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, and two steals. In a way, this game felt like it was made for a player like Mitchell.

Defense, determination, and grit helped the Eagles to hold on to take the upset victory. 

Freshman guard Jay Heath stepped up for BC on the offensive end, leading the team with 17 points. He hit two three-pointers in the first half to help BC open up an early lead and didn’t shy away from the spotlight late in the game. Heath converted on an and-one to halt Virginia’s momentum and even the score at 50 with just over four minutes to play.

Jared Hamilton hit the biggest shot of the Eagles’ season so far with a go-ahead three-pointer with 37 seconds left.

BC set the tone with defense and never allowed Virginia to gain control of the tempo. They employed a full-court press and held UVA without a bucket for a stretch of more than five minutes in the first half. 

BC entered halftime with a four-point lead, which grew to their largest lead of the game six minutes into the second when Jairus Hamilton hit a jumper to put the Eagles up 12. 

But Virginia wasn’t about to go down without a fight. The Cavaliers promptly responded with a 10-0 run of their own to pull within two. As the UVA fans in the building grew louder, the Eagles started to falter on defense. It looked like the defending champs might start to take over and run away with things. 

Once again, it came down to the team defense for BC. They killed Virginia’s momentum with a few key stops, steals, and blocks, and kept themselves in a position to win the game. 

Mitchell provided the anchor for the BC defense down low. Without big man Nik Popovic, interior defense and rebounding could have been BC’s downfall. However, Mitchell helped to hold Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite to just nine points as the Eagles remained in control at both ends of the court. 

Team defense allowed BC to prevent UVA from maintaining momentum for an extended period of time. As an underdog coming into the game, this was a major key. The Cavaliers never took over momentum for more than a few consecutive possessions.

New football coach Jeff Hafley was in the stands on Tuesday night, attending his first BC basketball game. Hafley got a big round of applause from the home crowd when he was shown on the scoreboard during a timeout. 

It has been an up-and-down season thus far for the Eagles. After early wins against Wake Forest and South Florida, they have also battled through ugly losses to Northwestern, Richmond, and, most recently, a 39-point defeat at the hands of Duke. 

For a team that lost Ky Bowman to the NBA and Wynston Tabbs to season-ending surgery, however, the Eagles have impressed thus far. An upset victory over the defending national champions will hopefully signal more good things to come.

BC now sits at 9-6 overall and 3-1 in the ACC. They take on Georgia Tech at home this coming Saturday, Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. 

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Patrick Carpenter