No. 19 men’s basketball resoundingly defeated Virginia tech 65-39 Friday night. The Cavaliers (11-2, 3-0 ACC) held the Hokies (10-4, 1-2 ACC) to less than 40 points for the first time since 1967, forcing 13 turnovers in the process.
Freshman guard Casey Morsell got the Cavaliers going early with his eighth three-point bucket of the season just 33 seconds into the game. Virginia Tech redshirt freshman guard Tyrece Radford responded under a minute later with a layup to cut the Hokies’ deficit to one, but senior guard Braxton Key put together two layups of his own to put the Cavaliers up 7-2 with 17:13 left in the half.
However, a game that started as uncharacteristically offensive for Virginia subsequently delved into a defensive slugfest. The two rivals entered a scoring drought lasting over four minutes, including a combined five turnovers.
Hokie redshirt freshman guard Landers Nolley II ended the scoring drought with a jumper inside at the 12:57 mark, helping Virginia Tech cut Virginia’s lead to 7-4. Nevertheless, the Hokies fell into yet another scoring drought as sophomore guard Kihei Clark converted two free throws and sophomore guard Kody Stattmann sank a jumper over the ensuing 4:13.
Once again, Nolley came to the Hokies’ rescue, sinking another jumper, but Key quickly responded with a three-pointer, having recently switched from a cast to a splint on his left hand.
“[My left hand] felt really comfortable today,” Key said. “It’s a lot lighter and I have more access to my palm, so catching the ball and shooting feels a lot better.”
Virginia continued to pull away from Virginia Tech despite Nolley’s continued efforts to keep the Hokies close. The Fairburn, Ga., native scored 15 of Virginia Tech’s 17 first-half points as the Cavaliers’ stymied their rival’s small-ball lineup.
With three seconds left, Stattmann put an exclamation point on Virginia’s strong first-half performance with a two-hand slam off the inbound, sending the Cavaliers into the locker room up 30-17.
The Cavaliers were a well-oiled machine offensively, patiently setting up open looks with Clark at the helm. Virginia shot 46 percent from the field and 30 percent from the three-point line, showing immense progression from its shooting struggles earlier in the season.
On the other hand, despite averaging 37.9 percent from the three-point line, the Hokies struggled from the arc, shooting just 16.7 percent in the first-half.
In the second-half, both teams started off slow, but Radford converted two free throws after being fouled on a fast-break 1:41 into the half. Nevertheless, the Cavaliers subsequently picked up where they left off, using a Clark jumper to embark on a 19-9 run as Virginia looked to run away with the game ahead 51-28 with 10:59 to play.
Free throws by Hokie freshman guard Hunter Cattoor and Radford, followed by a three-pointer by sophomore guard Isaiah Wilkins, cut Virginia’s lead to 51-34 with 8:28 to play, giving Hokie fans an inkling of hope.
Nevertheless, the Cavaliers’ pack line held strong and their offense continued to run on all four cylinders, closing out the game with a 14-5 run and defeating Virginia Tech 65-39.
“As good as [the Cavaliers] are defensively, I thought that they were just exceptional today and beat us to some things, so tip of the cap to those guys.” said first-year Virginia Tech Coach Mike Young.
The Hokies — who average just under 72 points per game this season — struggled to find any rhythm against Virginia, shooting 27 percent from the field and 16 percent from behind the arc. The Cavaliers, who in contrast have struggled offensively this season, hit their stride against their rivals, sinking 46 percent of their field goals en route to a dominating win.
Clark and Key were the stars for Virginia in front of a capacity crowd at John Paul Jones Arena, posting 18 points apiece. Key finished with a double-double, adding 10 rebounds to the stat-sheet, while Clark dished out six assists.
“[Kihei Clark] played terrific on both ends of the floor,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “We tried to open the floor a little more for him, let him attack and make some decisions, and he was really good.”