Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech snapped their four-game losing streak on Wednesday, defeating Clemson 70-58 on Senior Night in Blacksburg.
"All in all, it was a good night for our team,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said postgame. “We battled through some things and stayed the course and found a way to get out of here in our home finale in Cassell. I am proud of our bunch.”
The Hokies led by five points at halftime, 30-25, despite turning the ball over twelve times in the first period. That was the message heading into the locker room, according to freshman Hunter Cattoor.
“We had 12 turnovers and that’s not our type of basketball,” Cattoor said. “That’s what they [coaches] said coming into the locker room. … So, we just knew if we took care of the ball and kept making stops, we would come out with the win.”
And that they did.
Tech flipped the script in the second half, recording 13 assists while committing just four turnovers. It proved the difference after just four assists in the first half.
“We got more control of the ball, making 100 percent passes instead of 50 percent passes,” junior P.J. Horne said. “You never know which way it’s going to go if it’s not 100%.”
To add to that success, the Hokies made 12 of their 26 attempts from behind the arc, including hitting 50% (8-16) of their threes in the second half. Horne played a large role in Tech’s success from deep, making four of his seven attempts, which contributed to his 16 points.
“When P.J. Horne has the ability to step out and make multiple threes, that makes us tricky to guard,” Young said.
Young also praised Horne’s performance on the defensive end, as the Tifton, Georgia, native shut down Clemson’s Aamir Simms. Simms, who averages 13.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, had a stretch of six games during the season where he scored in double figures.
Horne allowed the Palmarya, Virginia, native just five points and five rebounds, while forcing four turnovers as well.
“P.J. Horne did an outstanding job on Aamir Simms,” Young said. “As good as he is, we were able to get to him twice in game one down there and turn him over. Low and behold, we were able to get to him again tonight. I thought that put him back on his heels a little bit.”
Redshirt freshman Tyrece Radford had another standout performance to complement Horne, adding 16 points on 7-8 shooting and six rebounds. It was his tenth consecutive game scoring eight or more points, and he’s pulled down at least six rebounds six different times in that span.
“He provides a level of toughness and a level of hard-nosed basketball,” Young said of the 6’1” guard. “He runs in transition; he slashes when there’s dribble penetration and his man turns his head to watch the ball. … Just a basketball player. There’s no other way to describe it.”
The Hokies received some much-needed minutes from their bench to carry the load, as Jalen Cone (six points), Hunter Cattoor (nine points), and Isaiah Wilkins (eight points) provided a spark.
Cattoor was particularly impressive – he recorded seven rebounds to complement his nine points, while shooting 3-5 from the floor, 2-4 from three. He even threw down a high-flying dunk in transition off the feed from Wilkins.
“I said when we got him last fall, I told my staff, ‘I think that kid can play anywhere in the country,’” Young said. “Kids that can shoot the basketball and that are tough, win. That kid has had a darn good freshman year and he’s going to get better and better as we go along because he cares and it’s important to him.”
Throughout the first eight minutes of the second half, the two sides traded the lead eight times before the Hokies pulled away behind a 13-0 run over a three-minute span. The run gave the Hokies a 12-point lead, which they never relinquished.
The senior night game came full circle with 2:22 to play when Young gave the signal to Branden Johnson, Tech’s lone senior, to head to the scorer’s table. Johnson, who had seen a total of 44 minutes this season entering Wednesday’s contest, entered the game with walk-on Brendan Palmer, much to the delight of the Hokie fans in attendance.
With the win, the Hokies improved to 16-14 overall, 7-12 in the ACC, while securing the fifth consecutive winning regular season, dating back to 2015-2016.
Tech has one game remaining – at Notre Dame at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Thanks to results on Wednesday evening, should the Hokies win in the Joyce Center, they would guarantee themselves a first-round bye in Greensboro in one week’s time as the nine or ten seed.
To still have an opportunity to receive a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament after losing four games in a row and nine of ten shows a lot about the character of this team and the strong start they had in ACC play.
Tech still has one more game they likely need to win to avoid playing on Tuesday in Greensboro, but the Hokies are confident they can use this momentum to carry them to more success forward.
“I feel like we can carry this momentum on to the next game and try our best there to get the win,” Horne said.