GREENSBORO, N.C. — Reece Beekman hadn’t made a shot all afternoon for 16th-ranked Virginia when the ball swung his way in the final seconds of a tie game.
The freshman didn’t hesitate.
Beekman buried a 3-pointer as time expired to help the Cavaliers edge Syracuse 72-69 in Thursday’s quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, a shot that sent Beekman and his teammates sprinting around the court in celebration.
Beekman was 0 for 5 from the field when Kihei Clark penetrated to the left elbow and then zipped the ball to Beekman waiting on the right wing. He launched a confident catch-and-shoot 3 with the horn sounding as the ball hit the high point of its arc before dropping cleanly through the net for the top-seeded Cavaliers (18-6), who advanced to face fourth-seeded Georgia Tech in Friday’s semifinals.
“I was just thinking: It’s a big shot,” Beekman said. “My coaches, everybody believed in me, so they wouldn’t have me out there for no reason.”
Almost immediately, the 6-foot-3 guard started sprinting towards the other end of the court with his teammates pursuing him at full speed. They finally caught up with him and gathered at the far baseline near the Syracuse bench to celebrate.
“That’s what March is,” said teammate Sam Hauser, who confidently raised his arms signaling the 3 would be good as Beekman launched the winner.
Yet that confidence belied the fact that Beekman had made only 8 of 31 3s (25.8%) all season entering Thursday.
“Beekman’s the one guy we want to shoot it there,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We don’t want to give anybody a shot, but he’s the one guy we want to shoot it. … That’s the way it goes. He knocked it down.”
Buddy Boeheim finished with a career-high 31 points for the eighth-seeded Orange (16-9), a day after he scored 27 points in Syracuse’s tournament opener. He nearly lifted the Orange to another win to help their NCAA Tournament chances.
After Beekman’s shot fell, the Orange coach’s son stood near midcourt, hands on his knees in disbelief, while teammate Quincy Guerrier squatted down a few feet away.
Syracuse: The Orange entered the week near the cut line in most NCAA projections, though a win against fellow bubble team North Carolina State on Wednesday helped that case. Afterward, Jim Boeheim said he thought the Orange “did what we needed to do this year” but with a wait-and-see caveat. Winning this one likely would have eliminated all doubt on that front.
“It’s not up to me,” Boeheim said, adding: “There’s no doubt in my mind, and I don’t think anybody’s mind that follows the sport and knows what they’re doing.”
Virginia: The Cavaliers had won the regular-season race by beating Louisville after No. 15 Florida State lost at Notre Dame on the final day of the schedule. That gave the Cavaliers the No. 1 seed for the fifth time in eight seasons as they pursued a third tournament title under Tony Bennett. They had to rally from 11 down in the first half to advance.
“We survived,” Bennett said.
Hauser scored 21 points to lead Virginia, while Trey Murphy III added 15 points. Murphy’s day included back-to-back 3s from near the Virginia bench in the final 4 minutes – part of Virginia’s 4-for-5 effort from behind the arc in the final 5 1/2 minutes.
Buddy Boeheim spent nearly two full games in Greensboro frustrating all defenders.
The 6-foot-6 junior made 10 of 16 shots and six 3s in Wednesday’s win against the Wolfpack, then came out hot by going for 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the first half against Virginia.
Virginia did a better job on him for the first 15 minutes of the second half, only to see Boeheim get rolling again and score 11 of Syracuse’s last 13 points. He finished 10 for 17 in this one with five 3s.
“I can’t even describe Buddy’s play,” Jim Boeheim said, adding: “I mean, you couldn’t ask anything more out of a player than what he gave us today.”
Syracuse: The Orange await their NCAA Tournament fate on Selection Sunday.
Virginia: The Cavaliers face Georgia Tech on Friday.