Virginia Tech put forth one of their best efforts of the season, giving #2-ranked Virginia all they could handle, but the Hokies ultimately fell 50-47.
Adam Smith’s open three-pointer from about 27 feet deep rimmed out at the buzzer to prevent the game from going into overtime. That finished off a 17-4 run by Virginia that erased a 43-33 VT lead with 10:43 left and propelled the Cavaliers to the win.
The Hokies played their third straight game without leading scorer Justin Bibbs (concussion). The game was sold out and played before a mostly-full Cassell (estimated fans in attendance: 8,500). At times, the Coliseum was extremely loud.
“I think how scrappy Virginia Tech was and how inspired they played, even without one of their good players Justin Bibbs, is a credit to them,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Those guys battle.”
Tech head Coach Buzz Williams was pleased with the effort he got from his players, but he was also clear that effort isn’t enough. Effort puts you in a position to win, but you have to close it out, and the Hokies couldn’t.
“We played hard,” Williams acknowledged, “but I think if you’re going to compete, you have to play hard. Virginia played incredibly hard as well. That’s just a prerequisite. That just gets you a ticket to the game. It doesn’t ensure anything.”
Virginia Tech’s struggles to score in the last ten-plus minutes of the game belied an otherwise strong offensive effort for the Hokies. Virginia was only giving up 33.5% shooting coming into the game, but the Hokies shot 45.2% for the game (19-42), including 52.4% in the first half. At one point in the second half, the Hokies were shooting nearly 55% for the game, before their offensive difficulties down the stretch brought their percentage down.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers shot 34.7% from the field for the game, 13% below their season average of 48%. That included a 33.3% (6-of-18) effort from the outside.
For most of the game, the Hokies attacked Virginia’s vaunted Pack Line defense effectively, getting open looks from inside and out. Virginia’s defense is designed to limit opportunities inside the arc, but the Hokies outscored the Cavs 24-22 in the paint. Tech also missed at least four other opportunities for layups in the paint when Satchel Pierce and Christian Beyer popped free under the basket, but double-teamed guards couldn’t get the ball to them.
Though the Hokies outshot the Cavaliers, Tech ultimately lost because they were outmanned in their usual areas. Virginia outrebounded Tech 33-21, including 12 offensive rebounds to just one for VT. UVa outscored VT 9-2 in second-chance points, and Virginia also made 10-of-12 free throws, while Tech hit just 4-of-7.
Adam Smith led all scorers with 15 points but didn’t register a point in the last 12:07 of the game, as Virginia increasingly focused on him, and he missed his last four three-point attempts.
The Cavaliers started the game with a 9-2 run, but the Hokies battled back to make it 13-10 on three-pointers by Ahmed Hill (7 points) and Smith, plus a dunk by Christian Beyer (4 points and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes).
Virginia went on another run, stretching their lead to 24-13 with 6:57 left in the first half.
With the Cavaliers ready to take control, the Hokies instead dominated the next 16:14 of the game, going on a 30-9 run that spanned half time and spurred Virginia Tech to their 43-33 lead.
First, the Hokies ended the first half on a 14-6 run to make it 30-27 Virginia at the half. Devin Wilson scored five of his seven points during that run, and Smith hit a floater in the lane with two seconds left.
After Virginia scored the first three points of the second half to go up 33-27, the Hokies put up a 16-0 run that had the Cavaliers reeling and Cassell Coliseum rocking. During the run, which lasted almost nine minutes, Virginia missed seven straight shots and turned it over six times. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech made 6-of-10 shots and didn’t turn it over a single time (after turning it over ten times in the first half).
Virginia looked confused and lifeless at that point and was in danger of losing their first game of the season, but it wasn’t to be. The Cavaliers clamped down on defense the rest of the way and slowly climbed back into it. Justin Anderson scored eight of his 12 points in a three-minute span that turned a 45-38 Tech lead into a 48-45 Virginia lead with 2:45 to go.
Anthony Gill hit a layup to put Virginia up 50-45 with 2:10 left, but the Cavaliers wouldn’t score again. Ahmed Hill hit a layup with 1:06 left to make it 50-47. After a Malcolm Brogdon miss, the Hokies got the ball back with 31 seconds left. Will Johnston (who started but went scoreless) passed up an open-three pointer with 18 seconds left, and Malik Mueller missed a three-pointer with 16 seconds left.
The Hokies fouled Darion Atkins with 12 seconds left, and Atkins missed the front end of the one-and-one, giving the Hokies a chance to tie. The Cavaliers spent a foul with just under six seconds left, leading to Tech running an inbounds play for Smith to tie. Smith got an open look, but was well outside the arc, and the shot rimmed out as time expired.
“So obviously they’re going to sit on top of Adam,” Williams said. “Most of you probably thought Adam was going to shoot, and I think they probably did, too.”
“I got a clean look,” Smith added. “It was a little deep, but it felt perfect. I thought it was going in.”
With the win, Virginia went to 19-0 on the season, 7-0 in the ACC. The Hokies, who wore white uniforms trimmed in pink for breast cancer awareness, fell to 8-11 (0-6). Their stretch of playing four straight top-15 teams is now over. The loss was Tech’s seventh in a row.
“I’m really thankful for the people that came today and spent their Sunday afternoon arranging all the things that you have to arrange in order to attend. We really appreciate it,” Buzz Williams said. “I thought it was great … [but] at some point fans are just like everybody else. You want to see your team win.”
The Hokies entertain Pittsburgh (13-7, 3-4 ACC) Tuesday night at 7 PM, on ESPNU.