Tonight's showdown between Virginia Tech and Duke was defined by two freshmen. The one who shined brightest in the game in Duke's Kyle Filipowski who had 29 points plus 9 rebounds, and the one who won the game in MJ Collins who had the final 3 points to win this game.
Virginia Tech beat Duke 78-75 to end their seven-game losing streak and improve to 12-8 on the season including 2-7 in ACC play while the Blue Devils fell to 14-6 overall including 5-4 in ACC play. It's also Virginia Tech 5th win against Duke in their past 6 games against the Blue Devils at Cassell Coliseum.
For the Hokies, there were plenty of things that helped put them over the top with the most obvious being the final 3 points from Collins with the biggest moment being his game-winning pull-up shot from 12 feet with 13.6 seconds to. So what was Collins thinking as he drove and pulled up to drain the game winner?
"Hunter slings it to me. I thought about the three, kind of ran me off the line. I see two men, I think 15 stepped up and Mark Mitchell was behind me to the right of me. I knew I saw Hunter fill to the corner. I had a pitch back, but I didn't really trust it so I went with my instincts with a two-dribble pull-up which is what we work on everyday even before the games so I was confident to hit the shot and it fell," Collins said.
It was far from the only big play of the night for Collins who had 6 points and 5 rebounds including a big three that gave Tech a lead at one point down the stretch along with some hustle rebounds including an offensive rebound that eventually led to a Grant Basile bucket.
Of course, part of Tech's success came from a red hot first half where the Hokies put up 45 points while shooting an insane 17-25 (68%) from the field including 7-10 from three-point range. In some ways, Basile felt that the Hokies were due for a breakthrough given the talent they have.
"Honestly, I just think we were due. We have a lot of good shooters, lot of good players. When you put them in position to score, eventually it's going to work out. We have guys that are in the gym, it's not like we're just throwing it up there in hopes it's going in. Everyone on this team works up there in the gym getting extra shots outside of practice. If you continue to do that, good things will happen," Grant Basile said.
Tech cooled off some in the second half, but Grant Basile stepped up as the consistent scorer dominating the paint on the offensive end on his way to having 24 points on 10-15 shooting including 9-13 inside the arc plus 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.
For Basile, it was about taking advantage of Duke's willingness to switch often off screens that proved to be a big reason for his team-high 24 tonight.
"We got some switches. Our guards did a fantastic job of handling that pressure getting those switches, getting the bigs, and trying to find the mismatch inside without forcing it," Basile said.
Hunter Cattoor played his first home game since his return from injury and put on a show going 5-10 from three-point range including 4-6 in the first half on his way to 15 points along with the game-sealing steal at the end. This comes even as Cattoor clearly still has some pain in that injured left elbow of his that was wrapped with ice on all sides after the game. So how did Cattoor do it tonight?
"Just being out there in front of Cassell again, in front of the students, playing against Duke; couldn't ask for anything better than that. So I think just going out there and knowing that for this team, we needed a win and I was willing to do whatever it took to get a win. So I think just going out there and I was just playing my game, it wasn't like I was hunting these threes and I thought I was going to come out and hit all this, it was just playing the game the right way," Cattoor said.
Part of that was due to what Hunter Cattoor does with his off-the-ball movement that combined with his three-point shooting prowess helped give Duke plenty of defensive issues. After the game, Duke head coach Jon Scheyer had praise for the impact that Cattoor has
"He changes their team in a big time way because of the way he moves without the ball," Scheyer said.
One of the key stretches of this game came from 12:04 to 4:46 when Justyn Mutts was on the bench due to foul trouble with 3 fouls. Filipowski put Duke up 4 on a free throw as Mutts was exiting but by the time Mutts returned, the Hokies had reclaimed a 5-point lead. That was a stretch that proved crucial to the Hokies winning this game with head coach Mike Young impressed in part by the play of Basile and Lynn Kidd in the frontcourt during that stretch.
"I wasn't sure we could do it. Justyn means that much to us. Hats off to Lynn (Kidd) and Grant (Basile). I thought we had just enough pressure on the ball when they put it in the post. We trapped them a couple times in the second half. I thought that was good for us. A real feather in those two kids' hat. They got us home by and large so a lot of fun to see," Young said.
Of course, Justyn Mutts did make some big plays for the Hokies on his way to having a solid 9 points and 6 assists with only 2 turnovers. Sean Pedulla bounced back from his first game in single digits this season on Saturday to having one of his best games in weeks with 16 points on 4-8 from the field including 3-5 from 3 plus 5-5 at the free-throw line while adding 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 rebounds, and only 2 turnovers.
As stated above, Lynn Kidd was big off the bench playing just over 20 minutes with 4 points and 4 rebounds including some quality play during that stretch as he continues to play better. Darius Maddox surprisingly didn't start or play much at all playing only 6 minutes including only the final 3.3 seconds in the second half. Mylyjael Poteat played 6 minutes as well but made the most of those minutes with 4 points and a rebound.
This game felt like a must-win game for Tech to keep their shrinking hopes of earning an NCAA Tournament at-large bid alive. Tonight's win provides a massive jolt as Tech now has 5 Q1/Q2 wins after having only 2 at this time last season. This win for now falls in Q1 though Duke being #29 in the NET entering tonight likely means they'll slide out of the top 30 for now dropping the win to Q2.
Regardless, this pushes Tech right back into the bubble conversation with momentum going into Saturday's game against Syracuse that is another must win to avoid a bad loss. In many ways, this had to be a weight lifted off their shoulders that this seven-game losing streak that had come so close to ending so many times is finally over and that they can focus on putting together a run building off this win.
However, Tech also knows that they can't take a deep breath knowing the work that they have ahead to get where they want to be as Grant Basile said.
"I think obviously it was just nice to finally get that win, but if you take a deep breath in this league, someone's going to pounce on you. You got to continue to stick together and find a way to get out of here with some more wins. It's a long conference play, we're not even halfway through, so we have a chance to turn this thing around."