The matchup between Virginia Tech and 19th ranked Florida Atlantic seemed destined to provide an excellent championship game in the ESPN Events Invitational. After a shocking 61-52 loss to Bryant, last year’s Cinderella Final Four team rattled off two impressive wins over Butler and 12th ranked Texas A&M to reach the tournament finale. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech seemed to have figured things out after an early season loss to South Carolina, recovering with quality wins over Boise State and Iowa State on their path to the ESPN Events Championship game. With the way both of these teams were playing, FAU entered the game as small 2.5 point favorites in what was expected to be a close game.
To say the Florida Atlantic Owls covered the spread would be quite an understatement, as they pulled off an 84-50 thrashing of the Hokies, dropping VT to 5-2 on the season.
Early on, the game seemed to be living up to the hype, as a tough lefty scoop from Sean Pedulla cut the Owls lead to 1, with about four and a half minutes left in the half. Unfortunately for the Hokies, that would be the last time they would score for about eight minutes, in a drought that lasted from the end of the first half into the first 4 minutes of the second frame. Over this time, FAU blew the game open, going on a 19-0 run to stretch the lead all the way to 20 points at a score of 44-24.
Virginia Tech tried to fight back, behind a few buckets from Sean Pedulla, but for every shot he would make, the Owls would make a three of their own. By the time each team opted to take out their rotational players with about five minutes remaining, the lead was almost 40 points.
Virginia Tech’s main culprit for this lackluster performance was their putrid shooting. The Hokies shot 33% from the field, 11% from three point range, and 62% from the free throw line, compared to 57, 41, 82 shooting splits from FAU. While lots of credit has to be given to Florida Atlantic and the way they are able to hound opposing offenses, realistically, Virginia Tech also just missed a lot of shots that they normally knock down.
Virginia Tech’s all-time leader in three pointers, Hunter Cattoor, and point guard Sean Pedulla both entered the game shooting above 45% from distance, but shot a combined 0-12 from downtown against FAU. While some of their misses in the second half was due to the two sharpshooters pressing on some of their shots needing a large comeback, many of their shots in the first half were great looks that they’ve been knocking down all season.
In fact, as a team, the Hokies didn’t make a three pointer until under four minutes left in the game thanks to backup freshman PG Brandon Rechsteiner. They were a couple of late game threes from having their first performance in about 20 seasons without making a three-pointer.
Obviously, Virginia Tech isn’t going to shoot like this in a typical game, but this still brought to the surface a potential Achilles heel that the Hokies need to address, quickly. That flaw is their reliance on the three pointer, or more specifically, the shooting of Cattoor and Pedulla. While it is great that the Hokies have two perimeter scorers capable of single-handedly taking over games, Virginia Tech has to have a backup option for the inevitable game where the star guard’s shots aren’t falling. Because, if the Hokies have such a game in the NCAA Tournament if they reach it, then that will likely be the end of their season, unless they figure out other ways to put the ball in the basket.
Despite their poor shooting, Cattoor and Pedulla were the only Hokies to get into double figures, dropping 11 points each. Meanwhile, Alijah Martin paced FAU’s balanced offensive attack dropping 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Vladislav Goldin also had an impressive game, going for 14 points, four rebounds, and three blocks, on a perfect 7-7 from the field.
Virginia Tech will look to recover and show that this game was a fluke against a couple power five opponents, traveling south to face Auburn on November 29th, before playing their first ACC game of the season in Cassell Coliseum versus the Louisville Cardinals on December 3rd.