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Virginia Tech Gets Past Notre Dame, Positions Itself For March Madness In 87-80 Win

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There aren’t many teams in college basketball that are as experienced as Virginia Tech.

A starting lineup comprised of three graduate students and two third-year players have seen plenty of moments in their careers to help them prepare for games with the season on the line.

In what was another solid start from the Hokies which turned into some late-game drama, Virginia Tech converted on nine of their last 10 field goal attempts, riding that to secure a spot in Friday’s ACC semifinal action with an 87-80 win over No. 2 seed Notre Dame.

“We've got a lot on the line,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said. “To get to 21 wins, to advance to the semifinal of this great tournament. [I’m] looking forward to coming back over and strapping it on again and seeing them compete.”

It’s now been two wins in two days for Young’s team, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by how the Hokies were bringing the energy on each and every possession.

Second Team All-ACC member Keve Aluma was one of those driving forces for the Hokies all night long. The star forward recorded a team-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, really providing a spark throughout the evening for this Virginia Tech team.

His fellow backcourt member, Justyn Mutts, also demonstrated an all-around dominant showing with 11 points and team-bests 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals.

But even after playing a total of 70 minutes in the past two days, the Delaware graduate transfer will be showing no signs of fatigue.

“At this point, I'm just so excited just to even be here and have the opportunity that we have,” Mutts admitted. “I'm not thinking too much about how my body is feeling.”

In the previous meeting back in Blacksburg in mid-January between the Hokies and the Irish, Tech shot a whopping 59% from the floor to win their first conference game of the season. Tonight was no different.

Virginia Tech converted 57% of its attempts from the field, and countered the Notre Dame attack punch-for-punch throughout the duration of the contest.

It all got started with a 7-0 run after the opening tip to set the tempo against an Irish squad that was struggling to find their footing.

“It was big,” Aluma said. “Some games we've started off slow and they've kind of punched us in the mouth. But this game we were able to take the fight to them, and that really helped us.”

That quick start was just a glance of what the Hokies had in store in the opening half, where they ended up with 42 points on 50% shooting from the field and 40% from behind the arc.

Sean Pedulla, a player who continues to prove his value, contributed 11 in the first 20 minutes to lead the Hokies after the first period of play.

Little did everybody know, that was just the start to what Virginia Tech could accomplish offensively. How? Well, the Hokies shot an impressive 16-for-24 from the field in the second half, allowing themselves to keep up with a Notre Dame surge in the latter stages after the Irish shot 60% in the final 20 minutes.

The back-and-forth battle seemed to be trending towards a similar manner as the second round bout against Clemson. Just like the Tigers, Notre Dame cut the deficit down to five late in the contest, and put a real scare into Virginia Tech after such a strong start.

But when time became a scarcity for the Fighting Irish, the Hokies had to focus on an area where they weren’t as successful in the second half – the free throw line.

Tech’s guards overcame two missed free throws in the final portion of the contest. And with the game on the line, the maroon and orange knocked down shot after shot, draining any momentum the Fighting Irish were gaining inside the Barclays Center.

Tech ended up going a solid 18-for-24 from the line, good for 75%. Storm Murphy (16 points), Hunter Cattoor (9 points) and Pedulla (13) all came through at the charity stripe in the dying seconds of regulation.

Looking at the big picture, though, this win does somewhat boost Virginia Tech’s resumé, but Young isn’t too concerned about what next week brings for the Hokies.

“I've got an opportunity to bring a good team over tomorrow,” he said. “We haven't talked about it. I'm going to worry about tomorrow and playing a good opponent in a wonderful postseason tournament representing Virginia Tech and the Atlantic Coast Conference.”

So what does tomorrow bring? Well, the third-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels await the Hokies in the semifinal round. Tech was swept by the Heels in the regular season, so this one could be quite the ultimate revenge game for this Virginia Tech team.

One more win. That’s how close the Hokies are to reaching the ACC Championship Game. And they're also only two wins away from locking up an NCAA Tournament bid without having to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

Tip-off is slated for 9:30 p.m. and will broadcasted on ESPN.

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