In the 156th all-time meeting between the in-state rivals, Virginia men’s basketball was defeated 74-68 by Virginia Tech at the Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg Saturday. The No. 6 Cavaliers (17-4, 9-3 ACC) could not string together enough buckets in the end, shooting just 41 percent from the field in their upset loss to the Hokies (14-9, 4-8 ACC).
“It was very competitive,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “They outlasted us a little bit in this one, and made the plays down the stretch.”
As the scoreline suggests, Virginia Tech made the brighter start to the proceedings, finding three-pointers from graduate student forward Grant Basile and sophomore guard Sean Pedulla within the game’s first five minutes. But Virginia did enough to stay close early on, with graduate student guard Kihei Clark sinking a triple of his own, while graduate student forward Jayden Gardner – continuing to impress in recent contests – contributed two baskets inside the arc. The game stood at 10-7 in favor of the Hokies with 13:44 remaining.
The hosts continued their ascendency as the opening period moved along, and it was Pedulla at the forefront yet again. The sophomore poured in five more points - including another shot from deep - to give himself 10 for the game. A couple of interior buckets each from senior forward Justyn Mutts and junior center Lynn Kidd helped build Virginia Tech’s advantage up to eight, a lead that was only kept below double digits due to multiple key baskets from senior guard Armaan Franklin.
“They made a concerted effort to really attack in the paint, and they made some plays,” Bennett said. “It takes an incredible discipline to keep them in front and keep them out of the paint, and if you don’t, they’ll get some easy ones.”
But just as they have done so many times before, the Cavaliers clawed their way back into things at a methodical pace. A putback layup and two important free throws from Gardner — paired with a triple from well beyond the three-point arc by freshman guard Isaac McKneely — trimmed Virginia’s deficit down to just two when the buzzer sounded on the first half.
The Cavaliers connected on only 39.3 percent of their field goal attempts in the opening 20 minutes of play, but committed just two turnovers and got enough stops on the other end to balance out their poor offensive showing. Pedulla’s 14 points led all scorers at the break, with Gardner chipping in with eight to lead Virginia.
In the initial minutes of the final period, it was interior offense getting the job done for both teams. Basile and Mutts both made their way to the rim for dunks, while Clark and Gardner scooted by their defenders for two layups each. The latter of Gardner’s buckets knotted the game at 38 apiece with 15:09 to play, snapping a passage of over 21 minutes in which the Hokies held the lead.
Virginia Tech did not waste any time reclaiming that advantage, however, as Mutts and Pedulla each converted old fashioned three-point plays to send the Hokies back up. After a pair of three-pointers from senior guard Hunter Cattoor, Virginia Tech had pushed its advantage to a game-high 10 points with 8:18 remaining.
Clark scored five quick points in 36 seconds for the Cavaliers to shrink the deficit back to five, but another barrage of shots from long range for the Hokies neutralized the graduate student’s progress. Cattoor and Basile were each left open on the perimeter and had no problem finding the bottom of the net, lifting Virginia Tech into a 63-54 lead as the game’s final three minutes approached.
But yet again, the Cavaliers refused to go down quietly. McKneely immediately drilled a triple out of Virginia’s timeout, and four more points from junior guard Reece Beekman brought the score to 65-61 with 1:45 remaining. However, that was as close as the visitors would get, as the Hokies sank five of their last six free throws to stave off any last comeback attempts from the Cavaliers.
The defeat is the third straight in Blacksburg for the Cavaliers, who will have to wait another season in their search for a victory inside Cassell Coliseum. Struggles from Franklin and graduate student forward Ben Vander Plas hurt the Cavaliers in this one, as the two upperclassmen combined to make just two of their 13 field goal attempts and score only six points.
Notably, junior forward Kadin Shedrick failed to see the floor despite not having an injury designation entering the contest. Bennett and Virginia have leaned more towards a smaller lineup as the wins have piled up in recent weeks, making playing time harder to come by for taller players like Shedrick. When asked about his decision to sit Shedrick, Bennett voiced his contentment with Virginia’s other options.
“The physicality with [graduate student center Francisco Caffaro] was good,” Bennett said. “Kadin [Shedrick] is available to play, but you can’t play everyone.”
On the positive side, Gardner produced his first 20-point performance in conference play, while Clark and Beekman provided 17 and 15 points respectively. Pedulla, Basile and Mutts did the heavy lifting for Virginia Tech, combining to score 53 of the Hokies’ 74 points.
Virginia will look to get back in the win column Tuesday when they host NC State, with the game set to be broadcasted on ACC Network for a 9 p.m. tipoff.