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Virginia Tech Beats #21 Clemson 87-72 Behind Huge Nights From Sean Pedulla, Tyler Nickel

Sean Pedulla 1 VT Clemson 2024 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

After a blowout loss at Wake Forest and a brutal loss at Florida State, Virginia Tech seemed like they may be heading for their third-straight slow start to ACC play. However, on a night where Hunter Cattoor missed the entire second half due to an injury, the Hokies stepped their game up and picked up a massive Q1 victory over a top 25 opponent.

Virginia Tech beat #21 Clemson 87-72 to improve to 10-5 overall including 2-2 in ACC play while the Tigers fell to 11-4 overall including 1-3 in ACC play. With the win, the Hokies pick up what is for now a Quad 1 victory in addition to having their best four-game start to ACC play since the 2020-21 season.

This game started out as a shootout of sorts with both offenses thriving and both defenses providing plenty for each coaching staff to have their players work on before their next games. The Hokies had their best offensive half of the season to date with 53 points on 20-31 (64.5%) shooting from the field including 9-14 (64.3%) from three-point range.

In the second half, there were moments where things got dicey for the Hokies with Clemson drawing within four points multiple times. Despite not having Hunter Cattoor, the Hokies rallied again and again thanks to a combination of big time buckets from Sean Pedulla and Tyler Nickel plus strong play collectively on the glass, forcing turnovers, and on the defensive end as a whole.

The Hokies have surprisingly been mediocre from three-point range outside of Hunter Cattoor this season. Despite Cattoor not taking a single shot prior to suffering an injury that caused him to miss the second half, the Hokies still had a big night from three going 13-24 from behind the arc led by Pedulla, Nickel, and Robbie Beran.

Pedulla himself has had plenty of big games in a Hokie uniform, but this may have been the best game of his career to date. Pedulla had a career-high 32 points on 9-16 from the field including 6-10 from three-point range plus 8-8 from the free-throw line. It wasn't just about his scoring though as he had seven assists to only two turnovers along with forcing four steals and making plays all over the floor.

This comes as Pedulla continues to work his way back to 100% since suffering a foot injury. After he struggled against Wake Forest, Mike Young mentioned that the injury was limiting the amount of contact Pedulla could face in practice, which Young felt was a reason for his struggles that day. As Pedulla has gotten more reps with full contact, his play has picked back up to the level many have come to expect from Pedulla, something Mike Young noted when praising Pedulla's performance over the past two games.

"It’s such a fine game. It’s hard to come through an injury, a foot injury, and not have the contact. It’s such a fine motor skill game, the passing and the physicality of it all. He’s a physical dude now. He’s not afraid of it. Rusty is not the word I’m looking for, but he missed the things necessary, that’s part of it. But he continued to work at it. He moved so poorly at Wake Forest and I thought I put him in harm’s way. He said he was ready to go, our medical staff said he’s ready to go. He was better on Saturday against Florida State. He was really good in here," Young said.

Tyler Nickel stepped up big with Cattoor banged up having a career-high 24 points on 8-11 shooting including 5-7 from three-point range plus 3-4 from the free-throw line. 16 of those 24 may have come in the first half, but Nickel had some big shots in the closing minutes that proved to be the dagger the Hokies needed to put this game out of reach.

Young was among those impressed by Nickel tonight having very high praise for his performance in this game.

"Tyler Nickel had his best game in a Hokie uniform," Young said.

One of the most encouraging things for the Hokies in this game was the fact that they tightened up on the interior holding Clemson to 28 points in the paint while they had 34 of their own. In particular, the Hokies held Clemson's potential All-American center PJ Hall to 11 points on 4-13 shooting with Hall taking eight threes and only shooting 1-5 inside the arc with no trips to the free-throw line.

After the game, Mike Young had plenty of praise for what his team did limiting Hall's production around the rim.

"Mylyjael Poteat, Lynn Kidd did a nice job. PJ Hall is terrific, you all know that, he’s an All-American I think, certainly played that way to this point. Had you told me that we would come out of this game and PJ has attempted (13) shots only and eight of those were from three, I would’ve fallen out of my shoes. Great job of being physical without fouling, we were concerned about that. We were gonna send a double to him, we only got to it a couple times because he spent a majority of his time on the perimeter which is unusual," Young said.

The defensive effort went beyond the paint to what the Hokies did collectively, holding Joe Girard to only 12 points on 3-10 shooting and holding Clemson collectively to only 28 second half points on 35.3% shooting including 2-13 from three-point range. Sean Pedulla also felt that the collective defensive effort that helped the Hokies contain Clemson's stars was critical to victory tonight.

"Our bigs did a great job on PJ Hall making his looks become difficult. I think the only good looks he got were at the three-point line and that’s a very hard task to ask our fives to guard a ball screen to get back. And when you look at Hunter the first half and then MJ taking his role over in the second half and guarding Girard, making his looks become really difficult to come by; we played gritty basketball and aggressive, physical basketball. And that’s what the coaches were harping on us before the game if we want to win and get a big dub in front of Cassell, we got to be aggressive and be the more physical team, and I think we did that," Pedulla said.

MJ Collins rightly deserves tons of praise for his performance as though he had only two points, he made a massive impact on this game. Collins played a critical role in containing Girard while also helping keep the offensive rolling with seven assists to only two turnovers in this game.

Tech's power forward duo of Robbie Beran and Mekhi Long also made the most of their minutes as Beran had eight points on 3-4 shooting including 2-3 from three-point range plus eight rebounds while Long added eight points on 4-9 shooting plus seven rebounds. Long, in particular, was a force on the glass in this game and probably deserves credit for a couple other rebounds Tech got that he held wedge away from a Clemson player to one of his teammates.

Lynn Kidd may have only had six points on 3-6 shooting and two rebounds, but he and Mylyjael Poteat (five points, three rebounds) did a great job of containing Hall and forcing him to attack from the perimeter. Given the struggles that Tech had on the interior against Baba Miller and Florida State, this was a great bounce back game for Kidd and Poteat.

Brandon Rechsteiner and Jaydon Young both played their part in this game with each playing just over five minutes and Rechsteiner having two points and a rebound while Young had just a rebound. Obviously, the late first half injury limited Cattoor to 14 minutes during which he had one assist and one steal. After the game, Mike Young had the following limited update on Cattoor given the lack of information available while Tech's staff reviews his injury.

"We’ll know more tomorrow morning. Don’t know anything more right now," Young said.

Even with Hall and Girard having quiet nights, they were able to get Ian Schieffelin and Chauncey Wiggins going to keep them in this game. Schieffelin led the way for Clemson having 15 points on 7-10 shooting plus eight rebounds (five offensive) while Wiggins had an efficient 12 points on 5-7 shooting plus three rebounds.

There's no denying that this was a much-needed win for Virginia Tech to avoid another slow start to ACC play and in the process, pick up another quality victory that for now falls into Quad 1 on the resume. More than that, this was a game where the Hokies had to deal with plenty of adversity that increased given the injury to Cattoor.

Despite all that and having to do so against a top 25 Clemson that most bracket projections have as a top four seed, the Hokies were resilient and showed the type of character that can give you plenty of encouragement.

Now, we wait to see the status of Hunter Cattoor going forward given the obviously significant impact that will have on this team. However, tonight was an encouraging night where the Hokies showed that they still are worthy of at least being right in the bubble conversation for the NCAA Tournament.

Of course, the Hokies will have to keep building on tonight's win whether they have Cattoor or not when a likely angry Miami comes into town looking to avenge a stunning loss this evening to Louisville at home in Coral Gables.

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