No. 13 Virginia men’s basketball escaped against a hot Georgia Tech team 64-62 Saturday night in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers (10-2, 6-0 ACC) used a late offensive surge and key defensive stops down the stretch to come back and defeat the Yellow Jackets (7-4, 3-2 ACC).
After obliterating then-No. 12 Clemson last weekend, Virginia had a full week off due to their mid-week game against NC State being postponed as a result of coronavirus issues within the Wolfpack program. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, dispatched a reeling Clemson team and was coming into Charlottesville confident, riding a five-game win streak.
The Yellow Jackets came out with intense energy and controlled much of the game before the Cavaliers leaned on their veteran stars — namely senior forwards Jay Huff and Sam Hauser — to mount a comeback and escape with a win.
Virginia started the game cold, missing four shots and committing a turnover in its first five possessions. Following four minutes of action, Hauser finally got the Cavaliers on the scoreboard with a layup and a three pointer on the ensuing possession to knot the score at five apiece.
Neither team was able to find an offensive rhythm early, but just prior to the second media timeout, Georgia Tech put together a quick 7-0 burst to take the lead at 12-9. The Yellow Jackets extended the lead to six with 10:21 left in the half on a strong take to the rim from senior forward Jordan Usher — already his 10th point of the game.
However, the Cavaliers soon began to find their shooting stroke, reeling off a 10-2 run to take a 21-19 advantage, forcing Georgia Tech Coach Josh Pastner to use his third timeout, leaving the Yellow Jackets with only one for the remainder of the game. Georgia Tech made good use of the timeout, scoring the next 10 points and eventually taking a nine-point lead on a three pointer from Usher with 1:13 left in the half.
Virginia closed the half strong with a jumper from Hauser and a three pointer from Huff as the game clock neared zeroes to cut the deficit to 36-32 heading into the break.
The Yellow Jackets were led by Usher’s 15 points and senior guard Jose Alvarado’s 10 points as the duo combined for four first-half threes. The Cavaliers had six players enter the scoring column in the first half with Hauser and Huff leading the way with a combined 17 points.
Georgia Tech opened the second half strong, quickly extending the lead back to nine points and building it to as much as 11 on an alley-oop dunk from Usher with 15:26 left in the game. From there, Virginia slowly started to claw its way back, cutting the lead to three following back-to-back contested three-pointers from Hauser with under 10 minutes remaining.
The Yellow Jackets pushed the lead to five on a bucket from junior forward Khalid Moore with 8:31 left, but that was the last time Georgia Tech scored for nearly six minutes. During that span, the Cavaliers scored nine points to take their first lead of the half at 60-56.
Georgia Tech junior guard Michael Devoe answered with a three-pointer to bring the Yellow Jackets within one prior to the final media timeout, setting the stage for an exciting finish. After Huff hit a jumper with the shot clock winding down, senior forward Moses Wright nailed a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to knot the score at 62 with under 90 seconds to play.
On the ensuing possession, junior guard Kihei Clark hit his first shot of the game on a floater inside the paint to give Virginia the lead. The Cavaliers’ defense then stepped up in a big way to close the game, forcing an empty possession from the Yellow Jackets before contesting a three-pointer from Devoe that just missed as time expired, as Virginia escaped with a 64-62 victory.
“Georgia Tech is a good team,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “They're really good at playing with great confidence, they play fast and they're quick. What I saw down the stretch is, I thought our on-ball defense really stepped up.”
For the game, the Cavaliers were led by 22 points from Hauser — a season-high for any Cavalier — on nine-of-12 shooting and four three-pointers, 18 points and five blocks from Huff — tying his career-high for the third time in ACC play — and eight assists from Clark. The Yellow Jackets only had three players score more than four points, with Alvarado, Usher and Wright contributing 52 of the team’s 62 points.
Hauser and Huff, the two fifth-year players on the team, combined to score 15 of Virginia’s last 19 points. Further, despite having a poor night offensively, it was another veteran, Clark, that delivered the game-winning bucket for the Cavaliers.
“You’ve watched [Clark] for three years,” Bennett said. “He’s a winner. I just see what he’s done in big settings.”
With the win, Virginia remains atop the ACC standings, and by defeating Georgia Tech, only Florida State is within one game of the Cavaliers. Virginia will look to stay undefeated Monday night against Syracuse, who is coming off an 18-point win against No. 16 Virginia Tech. Tip-off at John Paul Jones Arena is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.