After adjusting to being a full-time starter last year, star point guard Sean Pedulla has stepped up his game throughout the 40 minutes but especially down the stretch of games against quality opposition. After having five crucial points during the final 2.5 minutes last night against Boise State, Pedulla had a pair of big threes inside the final 2.5 minutes tonight to give the Hokies another big non-conference victory.
Virginia Tech beat Iowa State 71-62 to improve to 5-1 on the season with the Cyclones dropping to 5-1 on the season. With the victory, the Hokies advance to the finals of the ESPN Events Invitational where they will face #19 Florida Atlantic who reached the 2023 Final Four and beat #12 Texas A&M to reach Sunday's final.
Iowa State wants to play physical and muck games up which it what the Cyclones did for much of this one. Despite that going against how the Hokies want to play, Tech was game for it going back-and-forth early on before using a 15-2 over halfway through the first half to take control on their way to a 40-30 lead at the break.
However, Iowa State fought their way back in the second half forcing the Hokies to have grind a victory out if they wanted to get another big non-conference victory. That's exactly what the Hokies did leaning on their defense to prevent the Cyclones from getting a big run before Sean Pedulla proved to be the closer once again with a pair of big threes in the final 2.5 minutes to keep the Cyclones at arm's length to the end.
Tech had to lean on their defense more in this game to get the job done and it delivered tonight holding the Cyclones to 42% (21-50) from the field while forcing Iowa State to take plenty of tough shots throughout. The Hokies were able to hold their own against the physicality of the Cyclones in what was a positive development.
Even with this being a physical game, Tech had some great ball movement with 16 assists on their 20 made shots. They did have 15 turnovers though compared to 13 for Iowa State with the Cyclones turning that into a 12-7 points off turnovers advantage, something that had been a strength of the Hokies.
Tech was better on the glass tonight only have one fewer offensive rebound (9-8) than Iowa State while outscoring the Cyclones in second chance points 10-8.
Their three-point shooting was key as Tech was 11-28 (39.3%) from three-point range while the Cyclones were only 5-21 (23.8% from beyond the arc. Tech also continues to shoot their free throws at a high rate going 20-23 (87%) at the charity stripe compared to 15-26 (57.7%) for the Cyclones.
Sean Pedulla was the biggest star from deep with 17 points on 5-7 shooting from three-point range and 2-2 at the free-throw line plus six assists, four rebounds, and one steal. Pedulla did have some struggles in this game with five turnovers on the night, but he kept his head in the game and when it came time to close the game out, Pedulla was once again the man for the job to finish off this victory for the Hokies.
Hunter Cattoor had another big scoring night with 18 points on 4-9 from the field including 3-7 from three-point range plus a strong 7-8 at the free-throw line. Cattoor fouled out in this game but was a big part of the Hokies taking control of this game in the first half and played well throughout.
Lynn Kidd made it six-straight games in double figures to start the season with 13 points on 5-6 from the field and 3-3 from the free-throw line plus four rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Tyler Nickel was also in double figures for the fourth time this season with 10 points plus three rebounds and one assist. Both Kidd and Nickel have exceeded expectations so far and have been big reasons why the ceiling of this VT team seems higher than previously thought.
MJ Collins has struggled to start the season and though he was 1-8 from the field on his way to four points tonight, Collins found other ways to contribute with five rebounds, four steals, and three assists. Robbie Beran had only four points and two rebounds but provided some quality defense while Mekhi Long was the rebounding machine that he had been at ODU with eight rebounds plus four points and one assist.
Brandon Rechsteiner played seven important minutes off the bench to give Pedulla some valuable rest having one assist and zero turnovers while Mylyjael Poteat added one point, two rebounds, and one block in 11 minutes.
This is another big win for the Hokies that has a good chance of being a Quad 1 victory and will be no worse than Quad 2, making this the second win on the season that has a floor of Quad 2. That's exactly what the Hokies needed at minimum in this upcoming stretch for their 2024 NCAA Tournament hopes though they look the part of a potential top-third team in the ACC this season.
Sean Pedulla is a big reason for that showing a clutch gene in late game situations back-to-back nights that we didn't see from him prior. Having a point guard who can take control of a game late is a big plus and could prove quite valuable going forward especially on the road in ACC play later this season.
In the meantime, the Hokies get to play for a title Sunday in the ESPN Events Invitational final against #19 Florida Atlantic. Win that game and the Hokies will not only leave Orlando with a trio of quality wins, but most likely a spot in the top 25.