After the first matchup between these two teams came down to the final shot, the Valentine’s Day rematch between Virginia and Virginia Tech did not disappoint. Though the game featured dreadful shooting on both sides, the Hokies (16-10, 8-7 ACC) were able to pull away from the Cavaliers (16-10, 10-6 ACC) lae in the second half for a 62-53 victory. Senior forward Jayden Gardner led the team with 17 points and 14 rebounds, but the fact that Virginia did not make a single three-pointer all night was always going to make coming out of Blacksburg with a win a very tough task.
After Virginia Tech won the tip-off, both offenses struggled to wake up during the first few minutes of the game. The Hokies had a couple of shots rim out in their home gym to keep the score 4-4 at the first media timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, both teams seemed to wake up, with the rivals trading baskets before Virginia went on a 6-0 run to lead 14-11 with 11:01 remaining in the first. It was a clash of styles throughout the first quarter, with Virginia Tech trying to win from beyond the arc while the Cavaliers stuck to the painted area.
Similar to the Georgia Tech game just two days ago, Gardner was Virginia’s primary asset on offense, finishing with 15 points in the half to lead both teams in scoring. Especially with senior guard Kihei Clark having a tough time scoring against Virginia Tech’s guards, the frontcourt of the Cavaliers was key to staying in a dogfight against their biggest rivals.
After pulling even with Virginia, the Hokies finally got their first lead since early in the half off of a three from junior guard Hunter Cattoor. A hard foul on Gardner by Virginia Tech gave the advantage back to the Cavaliers, however, with the visitors leading 22-21 with 2:43 remaining. The teams would trade baskets for the remainder of the half, with Virginia finishing strong to take a 29-25 lead into the locker room. Neither team shot particularly well from the field, but Virginia Tech’s struggles from three seemed to be the difference at halftime, with the Hokies shooting just 3-13 from beyond the arc, well below their season average.
The Hokies got off to a blazing start in the second half, outscoring Virginia 9-2 to take a 34-31 lead with 15:38 to go. The Cavaliers seemingly could not get a shot off, and they had four of their first nine attempts blocked by Virginia Tech. The nightmare offense for Virginia would continue, but fortunately the Hokies cooled off, keeping the deficit to a manageable five points by the second media timeout. The Cavaliers looked completely lost on one end of the court, but Virginia’s trademark defense was keeping it in the Commonwealth clash. Coach Tony Bennett was not thrilled with his team’s performance out of the gate.
“When you’re in a setting in this kind of game it’s, you know, can you at least get a shot up,” Bennett said. “It comes down to making plays.”
Junior center Kadin Shedrick took Gardner's place as the resident scorer for Virginia, putting up seven straight points to keep the Cavaliers in the game as the two teams traded buckets. At some point, however, Virginia would have to make a three, as going 0-6 to start was not helping matters in an already subpar offensive outing.
An incredible dunk from sophomore guard Reece Beekman tied the game at 42 with 7:56 to play, but Virginia Tech would quickly come back to take the lead. Yet another dunk from Shedrick would retie the game, but he would pick up his third foul on the other end, giving three Cavaliers with three fouls apiece.
The Hokies would stretch the lead back to 49-44 with 6:06 to play, but the three-point shooting never did come for Virginia Tech, shooting just 24 percent on the night. Virginia managed to outdo its rivals on that end, however, as an airball from junior guard Armaan Franklin only made the jeers from the raucous Hokie crowd louder. Down four at the last media timeout, it was now or never for the Cavaliers.
A dunk from senior forward Keve Aluma would give Virginia Tech a 56-50 lead with 2:17 remaining, and after a miss from Gardner on the other end, Aluma would provide the dagger with a mid-range jumper to extend the lead to eight. Clark would then be called for a questionable flagrant foul, and the Hokies would ultimately ice the game away for a 62-53 victory.
“Scoring-wise we helped them enough to have a chance to win, but we just weren’t quite right,” Bennett said, effectively summarizing a frustrating loss for the Cavaliers.
Virginia will stay on the road for its next conference foe, visiting Miami in Coral Gables Saturday. Tip-off is set for 5:00 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network.