After losing three straight games in conference play, Virginia managed to squeeze out a win against Georgia Tech Saturday night in Atlanta. The narrow 63-58 victory came after a contested second-half performance as the Yellow Jackets (8-10, 3-5 ACC) took advantage of the Cavaliers’ (12-5, 4-3 ACC) inefficient offense to cut down the lead. Virginia’s defensive effort made the difference, and junior forward Jay Huff came up big for the Cavaliers with a career high six blocks and 17 points. Senior forward Mamadi Diakite similarly recorded 17 points while sophomore guard Kihei Clark served up seven assists.
“That's the third game in a row where [Jay’s] really played very solid,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “He gave us continuous effort on the glass, he bothered shots … Everyone chipped in at different times, but specifically Jay, he really gave us a lift rim-protecting.”
Both teams traded points early as Virginia tried to find its groove offensively. Huff and Diakite combined with four points apiece as the Cavaliers went on a 8-5 run in the first five minutes of play. Georgia Tech, by contrast, entered a scoring drought and turned the ball over seven times in as many minutes.
Sophomore guard Kody Stattmann drilled a three-pointer in his first shot of the night, but Georgia Tech senior center James Banks had an answer, scoring four points to tie the game 11-11 with 11:34 to go in the half.
Junior guard Tomas Woldetensae, senior guard Braxton Key and Clark added their first points of the night in the ensuing minutes, but the Yellow Jackets refused to fall far behind. With 4:46 remaining, however, Woldetensae hit his second three of the night, jumpstarting a 7-1 run for the Cavaliers to extend the lead to 29-21.
Virginia held the eight-point lead heading into the half at 33-25, shooting 48 percent from the field in the period. While Georgia Tech maintained a higher shooting percentage at an impressive 61 percent, the team’s 13 turnovers made the difference, as the Yellow Jackets allowed too many opportunities for the Cavaliers to counter.
Huff scored coming out of the break to enter into double digits in points with 10. Clark and Diakite continued the drive with scores in transition, giving Virginia a 12-point lead with under 17 minutes remaining.
From there, both teams ignited offensively, significantly speeding up the game. Turnovers, however, began to creep into the Cavaliers’ play, allowing the Yellow Jackets to go on an 8-5 run. Staying hot from range, Woldetensae sunk his third three of the night with 12:13 on the clock to put Virginia ahead 48-37.
As the Cavaliers entered a temporary scoring drought, junior guard Jose Alvarado caught fire and led Georgia Tech on a 9-0 run to get within two points of Virginia with eight minutes remaining.
Huff finally ended the dry spell, burying a three to jumpstart the quiet Cavalier offense. Virginia worked desperately to cling to its lead as both teams began to struggle with shooting, and Diakite and Huff tacked on points to keep the advantage intact.
With under a minute left on the clock, Alvarado knocked down another three to cut the score to 59-55. Georgia Tech began fouling as the clock ticked away, taking advantage of Virginia’s poor performance from the line — the team made just 50 percent of its free throws for the night. The Yellow Jackets made it a one-possession game at 61-58, but with five seconds on the clock, Diakite knocked down both of his free throws and sealed the road win, 63-58.
“We’ve got to continue to play better and not totally eliminate, but cut down on the mistakes,” Bennett said. “We built a nice lead, but their defenses can confuse you at times. We executed for the most part, but there certainly were some lapses.”
The victory snapped a frustrating three-game losing streak in ACC play. The Cavaliers return to conference play at home Monday at 7 p.m. against NC State and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.