No. 20 Virginia Tech fell to No. 3 UVA 64-58 in Cassell Coliseum on Saturday night. The Hokies dropped to 20-6 overall and 9-5 in the ACC, while the Hoos improved to 23-2 overall and 11-2 in conference play.
The big statistic in this game was three-point shooting. Virginia Tech came into this game shooting 41.8% from three-point range, but they had a terrible shooting night from the outside. The Hokies were just 3-of-28 (10.7%) from three-point range, which marks their worst performance in an ACC game since they went 1-of-12 (8.3%) at Duke on January 9, 2016.
Four Virginia Tech players – Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Ahmed Hill, Kerry Blackshear and Ty Outlaw – played all 40 minutes. Blackshear once again led the Hokies. After scoring 29 points with nine rebounds on Saturday against Pitt, he had 23 points, 13 rebounds and two steals against UVA. He was 10-of-14 from the field, 1-of-4 from the outside, and 2-of-3 from the free throw line. He also became the 48th player to score 1,000 career points for Virginia Tech in his career.
“I think statistically it speaks to how important he is,” Buzz Williams said. “We are still trying to figure out a set where he can dribble and then pass to himself and then make a decision from there. I just mentioned on the radio that one thing that I learned from Blackshear is not how good he is but the response of the other six kids of being accepting of how important he is to be the focal point, whether that’s to score or to make a decision. He makes the game easier for our other guys.”
Ahmed Hill added 16 points for Tech, but he was only 1-of-9 from three-point range. Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 11 points, four assists and three steals, but he was 0-of-6 from the outside. Ty Outlaw was 1-of-6 from the outside, while Wabissa Bede was 0-of-3.
Despite the awful shooting night, the Tech players and head coach were not willing to use that an excuse for the loss, instead giving all the credit to UVA’s defense.
“All credit to Virginia,” Williams said. “Incredibly well coached. Early entry Hall of Fame coach. Very disciplined on how they play on both ends of the floor. Their defense was third in the country and their offense is fifth, so you are for sure stressed out regardless of whether you have possession of the ball or not. All credit to them defensively.”
UVA head coach Tony Bennett said his team played better defensively in the second half, but that in the first half the Hokies just missed open shots.
“I think in the first half they missed wide open shots,” Bennett said. “They are hard to guard, they run good actions, slips, they can shoot it. We didn’t do a good job. We were very poor with our underneath defense. We gave up so many easy baskets, then they just missed threes. They hit some early second half. I thought we at least were there contesting, challenging, and maybe at times made them miss [in the second half]. We played a better, sounder, tougher game physically and mentally. First half that wasn’t the case, second half it was for us.”
Virginia Tech was 20-of-30 (66.7%) on two-point shots, and they executed their offense at a good enough level to get good looks, especially considering they were facing one of the nation’s elite defensive teams. The Hokies had 13 offensive rebounds to UVA’s 10 and outscored the Hoos 18-13 in second chance points. They also forced 13 turnovers while committing only eight, and outscored UVA 13-6 in points off turnovers and 38-16 on points in the paint. In the end, it was simply a matter of UVA shooting 40.7% from the outside, nearly their exact season average of 40%, and the Hokies shooting just 10.7%.
Virginia Tech led 13-10 early, and they had a great opportunity to hold the lead for longer, because future first round draft pick De’Andre Hunter only played six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. As Tony Bennett alluded to in the postgame, the Hokies had numerous open outside shot attempts in the first half, but they just couldn’t knock them down. Despite Hunter being on the bench, Virginia still took a 32-29 lead into the halftime intermission.
The Hokies started strong in the second half, with Ahmed Hill nailing one of his patented corner three-pointers off an inbounds pass to tie the game at 32. However, that was the last time the game would be tied, as the Hoos were able to gradually extend their lead to as many as 13 points at 56-43 with 5:51 remaining thanks to poor Tech shooting and their own ability to make timely shots in clutch situations.
The Hokies cut the lead to 58-51 on a Kerry Blackshear shot with 2:32 remaining, and that capped a short 4-0 run that really got the crowd into the game. However, Kyle Guy answered with a three-pointer 23 seconds later to take the lead back to 10 points. Tech again cut the lead to seven points, 61-54, with 1:25 left, but again the Hoos answered with a three-point dagger, this time by Alabama transfer Braxton Key with 57 seconds left. Key came into the game shooting 26.2% from the outside, but he was 2-of-4 against Tech and hit two key shots in the second half. His second three-pointer all but eliminated any chance of a Hokie rally.
Virginia Tech will return to action on Saturday when they travel to Notre Dame to take on the Fighting Irish. Tipoff is scheduled for 4pm, and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN.
Game Notes from Virginia Tech
The Hokies entered the game ranked 20th in the AP poll and 18th in the USA Today Coaches poll. Virginia was ranked third in both polls.
Kerry Blackshear scored 23 points. It marks the 19th time this season he has scored in double figures and his fifth 20-+ point game of the season. He also grabbed 13 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season and ninth of his career.
With his 23 points, Blackshear became the 48th player in Virginia Tech history to score 1,000 career points. He now has 1,002 points. The Hokies now have three current players with at least 1,000 career points.
Ahmed Hill scored 16 points, his 17th game in double figures. He moved past teammate Justin Robinson into 23rd place in career scoring at Virginia Tech. He now has 1,353 career points.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 11 points. It is the 22nd time this season he has scored in double figures.
The Cavaliers now lead the all-time series, 93-56. Tech is now 29-23 at home against UVa, including a 16-9 mark in Cassell Coliseum.
Blackshear is now averaging 19.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in the month of February. He is shooting 60 percent from the floor, including 53.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. He also is shooting 86.8 percent from the free-throw line.