Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech became synonymous with lunch pail toughness during the Frank Beamer era that the Mike Young Tech basketball teams have began to embody. On a night where the Hokies were without Tyrece Radford and down by as much as 10 to #8 Virginia in the second half, the 20th-ranked Hokies kept their head down and fought to a stunning comeback that sends a massive statement across the ACC.
#20 Virginia Tech used a 19-0 run in the second half to pull off a stunning comeback to beat #8 Virginia 65-51. With the win, the Hokies improve to 13-3 on the season including 7-2 in the ACC, putting themselves alone in 2nd in the conference, .5 games behind UVA who is 7-1 in conference and 11-3 overall.
With the win, Tech's 7-2 start to ACC play is the best through 9 games in program history. This is also Tech's fourth win against a ranked opponent this season including the second against a team currently ranked in the top 10, and third against a top 10 team in Mike Young's two seasons.
Tech dominated the paint tonight with a 24-12 advantage in that area led by a massive game from Keve Aluma (more on him in a second) while complimenting that with 9-18 shooting from three including 7-10 in the second half. Tech also only had 3 second half turnovers and 12 overall while going 12-14 from the free-throw line compared to 3-4 for UVA.
The key moment was the obvious 19-0 run that propelled Tech to a 63-47 lead late in the second half that they would never look back from. That counteracted a 7 minute scoreless stretch for Tech that spanned the final 6:10 of the first half and first 50 seconds of the second half with that stretch making it easy to forget those early struggles.
Keve Aluma put on one of the best individual performances we have seen from a Tech basketball player in recent memory with 29 points on 10-15 shooting from the field including 2-3 from the three-point range plus 7-8 from the free-throw line. Aluma also added 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block as he carried the load for the Hokies with 15 of their 21 in the first half before his teammates stepped up to share the second half load.
Hunter Cattoor was that second guy for Tech offensively with 15 points on 5-7 shooting including 3-5 from three plus 2 blocks, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 steal. Cattoor's growth continues to be aggressive as he plays with more and more confidence not only as a scorer but also when works as an offensive initiator.
Wabissa Bede had arguably the best game of his season with 7 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds as he made some big shots in key moments and some big plays running the show. Jalen Cone showed signs of breaking his slump soon as he had 6 points on a pair of threes plus 2 rebounds while Justyn Mutts had 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Nahiem Alleyne had a quiet scoring night with only 3 points but added 4 rebounds and an assist while David N'Guessan had 1 point and 1 assist and John Ojiako missed his lone shot attempt.
Jay Huff was one of four Virginia players in double figures leading the way for UVA with 13 points and 4 rebounds while Kihei Clark added 11 points. Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy III each had 10 points as well.
There is no doubt that this is a massive statement made by Virginia Tech that they are rightfully in the top tier of the conference alongside Virginia and Florida State as top contenders to win the ACC title.
This was a high level basketball game that we are used to seeing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament at the earliest between two teams who can make deep runs in the bubble. Add in the fact that Virginia Tech did this without the ACC's toughest player and the nation's inch-for-inch best rebounder in Tyrece Radford, and it's an insanely impressive win.
Tech also has a complete offense that is built around the interior scoring of Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts, but has the three-point shooting to compliment and take over when needed. If Radford does return before the end of this season, then Tech's already well-rounded offense will be even more complete with the slashing/attacking the rim from the perimeter that he brings to the table.
Combine that multi-faceted offense with the great defensive intensity that Tech showed and it's clear that the Hokies have the things needed to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
While it's unclear whether the VT at UVA game will be rescheduled and when if so, the odds of a second VT-UVA game continue to rise even if that second game isn't till Saturday night in March at the ACC Tournament.