Despite a 42-point second half against arguably the best defensive team in the country, Virginia Tech could not complete a comeback from down 15 at halftime, falling 56-53 to Virginia in Blacksburg.
The Hokies (15-13, 6-11) had a disastrous first half, finishing with eleven points on five made field goals. Though Tech turned it around in the second period, a Kihei Clark three-pointer with 2.1 seconds to play won this game for the Cavaliers (20-7, 12-5).
“Kihei backed the guy up and what a beautiful, beautiful three,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said postgame. “I didn’t think he had the greatest second half with some of his defensive things, but he responded the right way with the way he played, and we needed every ounce of it.”
After a Tyrece Radford layup tied the game for Virginia Tech with 11 seconds to play, Clark dribbled down the floor, sized up Jalen Cone and hit a step back three that would be the dagger.
“Sometimes we call timeouts, sometimes I decide not to,” Bennett said. “Thank goodness I didn’t.”
Tech responded well from a lackadaisical first half of action, starting six of six from the field and three of three from behind the arc to open up the second half. The three-point shooting was a spark for the Hokies, who pulled within three points of the Cavaliers after hitting three consecutive triples.
“We did exactly the same things in the second that we did in the first,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said postgame. "Jalen [Cone] got behind a couple screens and banged some shots. … P.J. [Horne] found the range and looked like P.J. again. … We simply made shots.”
The Hokies had successful runs of 11-2 and 12-4 in the second half, taking the lead during the second spurt with 4:51 to play.
When the momentum swung, Virginia’s defense responded.
The Cavaliers held the Hokies to three-minute field goal drought from 4:11 to 0:11, outscoring Tech 5-2 in that window. The Hokies had four straight possessions to even the game and could not (offensive foul, missed three, missed jumper, and missed three).
“You knew they were going to make a run here, and they started attacking and made some long threes,” Bennett said. “We could feel the crowd, and when they got the lead this place got very loud. So, our guys responded well.”
One of the reasons why the Hokies hung around was their defense.
As of late, Virginia’s offense has run through Tomas Woldentensae, the junior guard from Bologna, Italy. The assignment of Woldentensae, who averaged 14.8 points through the last five games prior to Wednesday, was given to freshman Nahiem Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor.
The duo held Woldentensae to just five points on one of eight shooting, including one of six from three. Woldentensae also turned the ball over three times, which Mike Young was impressed with.
“I thought they [Alleyne and Cattoor] were exceptional,” Young said. “He [Woldentensae] is playing very good basketball for them. … He plays with great gamesmanship and reads screens very well; we wanted to chase him off that. We had Hunter [Cattoor] and Nahiem [Alleyne], two puppies, guarding him, and I thought they did a great job.”
The defensive performance was not enough to overcome the first half offensive performance, however.
The loss is Tech’s eighth in their last nine games, including the third in a row. The road doesn’t get any easier for the Hokies, though, as they travel to Louisville to face the 11th ranked Cardinals on Sunday.
“We’ve got to find ways to win,” Young said. “I wish we could have made a couple more plays. … We’ll get ready to go to Louisville and find a way to play a really good ball game and give ourselves a chance to win.”