In the 152nd installment of the all-time series between in-state rivals Virginia and Virginia Tech, it was the Hokies (13-3, 7-2 ACC) who came away with the victory against the Cavaliers (11-3, 7-1 ACC). The Virginia loss came on the heels of a dominant 81-58 win against Syracuse on Jan. 25.
Coming into the game, the Cavaliers had bested Virginia Tech four times in a row, including a sweep last year with a 65-39 blowout win at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville followed up with a much closer 56-53 bout in Blacksburg. Bennett also came into Saturday’s match-up holding a 16-6 all-time record against Virginia Tech.
The game was closely contested from the jump, tied at 9-9 with 13:53 remaining in the opening half. As the two teams went back and forth, sophomore guard Casey Morsell began to heat up, connecting on back-to-back buckets that led to a 21-14 Virginia lead.
Despite the early advantage, seven straight points from junior forward Keve Aluma rallied the Hokies to tie the game up at 21. With the first frame winding down, junior guard Kihei Clark stepped up for the Cavaliers, making a three-pointer followed up with a scoop layup to put Virginia up 26-21 as the clock ticked down to four minutes.
Another three-pointer from junior guard Trey Murphy extended the lead to 29-21 heading into the locker room.
“We made some [shots] at the end of the shot clock that looked good,” Bennett said. “We maybe separated the lead a little bit, but we almost had to bail ourselves out with some of those at the end with certain guys, and we probably took too many.”
The Cavaliers outperformed the Hokies from beyond the arc in the first half, shooting 7-of-15 from three-point land compared to 2-of-8 for Virginia Tech. Aluma led the Hokies with 16 points while Clark led Virginia with 11.
The beginning of the second half appeared as if it was going to be a reiteration of the first after Murphy and senior forwards Sam Hauser and Jay Huff knocked down three-pointers for the Cavaliers. With the score at 37-29, Huff followed up with a hook shot to deliver the largest Virginia lead of the night, 39-29.
With under 15 minutes to play in regulation, Virginia Tech began to flip the script by scoring five quick points from sophomore guard Hunter Cattoor and Aluma. While Hauser managed to stifle the run with a three-pointer from the corner, Virginia Tech remained persistent on the offensive end.
Up 42-34, it appeared that Virginia would manage to hold the rest of the way. However, an unforeseen collapse on both ends of the floor struck the Cavaliers quickly.
“We were having a hard time getting post ups or getting to the free throw line through drawing files or drives,” Bennett said. “Again, they really bottled up the lane and defended, and then they were pretty quick to the threes and sometimes we had to take them.”
The Hokies first narrowed the score to 42-38 before freshman guard Reece Beekman connected on one of two free throws to bring the margin to 43-38.
Led by Aluma, Cattoor and graduate student guard Wabisa Bede, Virginia Tech continued to close in, eventually tying the game at 47 apiece. A pair of free throws by Bede delivered the lead back to the Hokies for the first time since the scoreboard read 11-9 in the first half.
From then on, the Cavaliers were crippled by a scoring drought unlike anything the team has seen this season. In a culmination of turnovers, foul trouble and poor offensive execution from Virginia, Virginia Tech took advantage of the Cavaliers’ ineffectiveness to make it a 19-0 run.
After establishing a 63-47 lead, the Hokies coasted to victory with the final score reading 65-51.
In a game that was truly a tale of two halves, Virginia was outscored 44-22 in the second half and ended the game shooting a miserable 19-of-52 from the floor overall. The second half improvement for Virginia Tech resulted in the team posting 50 percent on overall and three-point shooting for the game.
Aluma registered a career-high 29 points for the Hokies. Huff led Virginia in scoring, posting 13 points despite only playing 23 minutes due to foul trouble.
“Sometimes it's tough when [sophomore center Francisco Caffaro] and I get in foul trouble, it's hard to play as aggressively which is really difficult with a guy like [Aluma] who's really aggressive,” Huff said. “He had a heck of a game. Hats off to him. I hope we get to play him again and have a different result.”
The Cavaliers still remain atop the ACC despite having their 15-game winning streak in the conference brought to a halt. The team had won eight straight conference games before the abrupt ending to last season and were on a seven-game roll this season.
“Certainly, wasn't one of our better efforts and partly due to their good defensive taking the lane away and then challenging, leaving us with some late threes, which is what you want to do when guarding the right way,” Bennett said.
Next up for Virginia is a face-off against NC State Feb. 3 on the road in Raleigh, N.C. The game will take place at 9 p.m. and will be broadcast live on the ACC Network.