When Virginia Tech ran out in transition at the early 17:25 mark of the first half, all the Lehigh defenders could do was watch the silhouette of Justyn Mutts spin past them, draw two defenders, and dish to a wide open Grant Basile for an easy dunk.
Tech’s 9-0 start was catapulted by the brilliance of Mutts, who drilled a three and finished a layup off a long-stridden drive to the cup in the previous possessions. After he had to sit out Tech’s opener due to a NCAA mandated suspension, that early run spearheaded by Mutts' seven created points showed Hokie nation that he was back and better than ever.
“Why anybody in the world would double him is beyond me,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said. “If you double him, he’ll make the routine pass to where it’s supposed to be.”
Indeed, Mutts crisp passing led to five assists and opened opportunities up for others in the Hokies offense all game long. He finished with a clean double-double(17th of his career) of 16 points & 11 rebounds to lead Virginia Tech to the 78-52 victory in Cassell Coliseum over Lehigh. The Hokies are off to a strong start at 2-0 in the young 2022-23 season with Mutts providing an extra boost in his return tonight.
“It was good to have Justyn [Mutts] back,” Sean Pedulla said. “The energy he brings whenever he’s playing is unmatched and he brings everyone else’s energy up with him, it’s something that’s really good to have around.”
In addition to Mutts’ great return game, Virginia Tech was fueled by a 20-point night from Sean Pedulla. After putting up 18 points & eight assists in Monday’s opener, Pedulla was back in his bag against Lehigh. 20 points is tied for his career high that he initially set on January 29th, 2022 vs. Florida State in Tallahassee.
“I thought his shot selection was good,” Young said. “That shot at the end of the half was impressive.”
Pedulla went on a scoring clinic in the first half that was capped off by a cold-blooded three as the first half ended. While game one saw Pedulla nail five threes, Thursday night’s game saw Pedulla create in other areas of the court.
“I got to those spots in the paint and played off two feet instead of forcing something downhill,” Pedulla said. “That eight feet mid-range area is something I worked on a lot this summer.”
With Mutts and Pedulla supplying the bulk of the offensive load, the Hokies role players thrived off the two stars. Grant Basile was the third leading scorer with 11 points & eight rebounds. Darius Maddox and Hunter Cattoor both had quiet nights but combined for an extra 14 points.
Down low for the Hokies; Mylyjael Poteat, Lynn Kidd, and John Camden all got minutes to fill in the gaps when Mutts and Basile went to the bench. Poteat nabbed himself six points, three rebounds and one block while Kidd equaled his six points and grabbed two rebounds.
“It offers us great flexibility and such a contrast between Basile, Mylyjael and Lynn,” Young said. “Who gives you the best chance to win is how we’ll determine who plays.”
While the depth in the frontcourt sets up nicely for the future, Mike Young is betting on the young pieces in the backcourt to supply strong minutes moving forward. Certainly, the emergence of freshman guard MJ Collins is a great sight to see.
Collins scored five points off 2-5 shooting and made his first collegiate three-pointer. With the majority of the freshman class sitting out due to injury or a potential redshirt season, Collins is making the most of his early opportunities.
“The best part about MJ is he’s so willing to learn, he asks a lot of questions.” Pedulla said to reporters after the game.
Collins played 24 minutes in Thursday night’s game and 23 in the season opener. That’s a substantial amount for a freshman who’s still green and is adjusting to the speed of college play. All things considered, Collins looks to have no trouble with the adjustment early on.
“I think MJ is gonna be the best freshman guard in the ACC, and I think he’ll have a great opportunity to show what he has to do this year for sure,” Justyn Mutts said postgame.
For Virginia Tech defensively, it was a strong showing in the box score. The Mountain Hawks scored 52 points on 36% shooting from the field. However, the process wasn’t as strong as the results as the Hokies allowed plenty of open shots and were lucky Lehigh didn’t capitalize. Luckily, the Hokies had Mutts to clean a lot of mistakes up on that end.
“What casual fans don’t notice is how remarkable of a defender he is,” Young said. “Whether it’s the point guard, two guard, or five man, he just guards everything.”
Even with Virginia Tech’s new found depth in the frontcourt many of those pieces don’t have the defensive prowess of a player like Mutts. His strong leadership skills and communication elevate the Hokies' team defense in addition to all the little plays he makes on the stat sheet.
“It’s about being that vocal guy out there and pushing other guys to be vocal,” Mutts said. “We got five guys out there screaming, that's intimidating to the offense. If we’re all calling out the play they’re trying to run, then there’s not much they can do.”
Virginia Tech didn’t have the most efficient night from three-point range, shooting 5-18 for the game. They did shoot it well from all other areas of the court, as evident by their 52% shooting from the floor. Tech won the rebounding category by just four boards, 36-32 for the game. Only five turnovers were committed by the Hokies to 11 for the Mountain Hawks which played a big role in the Hokies' success.
Next up for Tech is Sunday night at 6 p.m. against an in-state opponent in William & Mary. It will be a home game at Cassell Coliseum and one in which the 2022 ACC Tournament championship banner will be raised pregame. The game will be a chance for the Hokies to celebrate last season’s accomplishment and advance to 3-0 before the season's first road trip to the Charleston Classic.