Men’s basketball downed in-state foe Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Wednesday night, 56-53. The Hokies (15-13, 6-11 ACC) tied the game at 53 with 11.3 seconds left, but sophomore guard Kihei Clark responded with a three-pointer with 2.1 seconds on the clock to secure the win for the Cavaliers (20-7, 12-5 ACC).
Senior forward Mamadi Diakite kicked off the scoring with a jumper off an assist from junior guard Tomas Woldetensae after one minute of play, and Virginia Tech responded with a tough layup from freshman guard Naheim Alleyne. However, the two teams then proceeded to combine for just seven points in the first 5:27 of play, as shots failed to fall on both sides.
Fueled by a corner three-pointer from Clark, the Cavaliers embarked on a 7-2 run, capitalizing on an unorganized Hokie offense that struggled to provide help on drives inside and taking a 12-4 lead with 12:05 left in the first frame. Virginia Tech finally concluded a 4:15 scoring drought off of an elbow jumper from junior guard Wabissa Bede as the Massachusetts native and the Hokies looked to find an offensive rhythm.
Nevertheless, three-pointers from Diakite and sophomore guard Kody Stattmann helped extend the Virginia lead to 20-9 with 7:49 left in the first-half. The Hokies continued to struggle from the field, scoring just two points in the final 5:19 of the first half, while the Cavaliers took advantage of strong distribution from Clark to score the final six points of the half and take a 26-11 lead into halftime.
Despite the low score, the Cavaliers looked solid on offense, shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 30 percent from the three-point arc in the first-half. Notably, Diakite was an offensive stalwart, single-handedly outscoring the Hokies with 13 points in the first 20 minutes. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, shot just 20.8 percent on field goals — more than six percent less than in their January clash against Virginia in Charlottesville, which saw the Hokies score a season-low 39 points.
Virginia Tech junior forward P.J. Horne injected some life into the Hokie offense with a three-pointer to start the second-half, but Woldetensae matched him with his first three of the evening. Nevertheless, Woldetensae quickly went cold, missing his next two threes, as the Hokies clawed back into the contest with three three-pointers in the first 4:33 to cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 35-26.
The Virginia defense responded to Virginia Tech’s newfound success from the arc with stronger close-outs, forcing the Hokies to beat them inside, where strong shot-blockers Diakite and junior forward Jay Huff lurked. As such, the Hokies went on yet another scoring drought, which lasted 4:53, yet the Cavaliers were unable to take advantage of these shooting struggles, only scoring three points during that stretch.
However, the Hokies found their stride with 10:34 to play, as a difficult mid-range jumper from freshman guard Jalen Cone catalyzed a stretch of three straight three-pointers from Virginia Tech to cut Virginia’s lead to 40-37 with 8:20 left in regulation. Senior guard Braxton Key sank two free throws to re-extend the Cavaliers’ lead to five, as the teams started to trade shots from the free-throw line.
Cone brought Virginia Tech closer with yet another three-pointer and two free throws from freshman guard Landers Nolley II tied the game at 44-44 with 5:15 to play. Woldetensae drained two free throws to regain the lead for the Cavaliers, but Hokie freshman guard Hunter Cattoor hit a three-pointer to give the Hokies their first lead of the game at 47-46.
Diakite stepped up and converted a layup inside to once again retake the lead for Virginia, but a jump-shot from Radford and two free throws from Nolley II gave Virginia Tech a three-point lead heading into the final 3:30. Nonetheless, a jumper from Clark and a subsequent corner three-pointer from freshman guard Casey Morsell gave Virginia a two-point lead with 2:00 left in regulation.
Strong defensive possessions from both teams maintained Virginia’s 53-51 advantage, but the Hokies held the last shot with 22 seconds to play as they looked to tie or take the lead. Off-ball movement from Nolley II drew Key outside the lane, allowing Radford to drive and lay the ball off the glass and into the hoop with 11.3 seconds to go — tying it up at 53.
Despite having multiple timeouts remaining, the Cavaliers drove down the court as Clark went around a Key screen to the left wing. The Woodland Hills, Calif. native used a crossover to gain separation from Cone, draining a three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left. The Hokies were unable to score on a last-ditch heave on the subsequent possession, and Virginia emerged victorious, 56-53.
“Kihei backed the guy up and what a beautiful, beautiful three,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “He’s a winner, and I’ve said that often. I kind of challenged him — 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.”
Diakite led all players in scoring with 19 points, while Key posted a double-double — scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Clark was similarly excellent, netting 10 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Next, Virginia puts its five-game winning streak on the line against No. 7 Duke at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN.