UNCASVILLE, CT — In an overtime thriller from Bubbleville, Virginia Tech upset No. 3 Villanova, 81-73, as the Hokies beat a top-three team for the fourth time in their last six attempts.
“Needless to say, we’re happy with our team and their toughness,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “We came in here with a plan, but it’s up to them to believe and fight and hang in there.”
It seemed like Virginia Tech had the game won after Keve Aluma made a layup with a foul to give the Hokies a 63-62 lead with 1.3 seconds left. After a Villanova timeout, Aluma stepped to the charity stripe with the intent of missing the free throw and forcing the Wildcats to try a full-court heave at the buzzer. However, he banked the shot off of the backboard and in, extending the lead to two.
“I made the basket and then, they called the timeout and the coaches told me to miss it. I tried to put more on it, and I put a lot on it,” Aluma said. “It was probably the perfect bank. It wasn’t even close to hitting the back rim.”
Villanova took the ball underneath and the Wildcats’ Eric Dixon ran the baseline with Tech’s Justyn Mutts shadowing him. Villanova’s Justin Moore set up under the basket and Mutts hit him as he tried to keep up with Dixon. The official raised his fist and called a foul on Moore. The Hokies were going to be getting the ball with 1.3 seconds left, up by two.
Inexplicably, after a brief official review, Moore ended up on the free throw line as Mutts was charged with the foul. Moore drained both shots at the line, tying the game at 64 and sending it to overtime.
“It infuriated me. Lee Cassell is a good official and he came over to me and said, ‘Mike, my partner is a good official who is giving me information. I got tangled up and I got it wrong,’” Young said. “I think, rightfully so, I had a little bit of an outburst. He called it on five, white.”
After the stunning change by the officials, Tech went from the high of beating the third-ranked team in the nation to having to regroup for another five minutes.
“You’re down in the dumps and your shoulders are droopy. You had the game won and now, you have to go to overtime and play five more minutes,” Young said. “Right back they come with some really nice possessions offensively. I thought we guarded so well defensively throughout and we did it again in the five-minute overtime period. We found a way to win.”
In overtime, the Hokies were able to bounce back from the shock and outplay the Wildcats. Delaware transfer Justyn Mutts scored the first five points, including his second three-pointer of the game. Mutts shot just 2-of-18 from outside the entire last season at Delaware.
With just under a minute left in the extra period, Villanova’s Caleb Daniels drained a three from the right wing to make it a two-point game. However, just like in regulation, Aluma was able to convert a clutch and-one to extend the lead back to five. The former Wofford Terrier had a career-high 23 points in his second game with the Hokies.
“Aluma has come a long way. I was kidding with him. I’m not sure he scored 23 points in the first half of his freshman year for me before,” Young said. “He’s a great person and he’s worked his tail off with a great body and big hands. He just had a really good game for us as did several others.”
The Hokies sealed the game by making 10 of 13 free throws in the extra period. This was more impressive considering both of Tech’s point guards, Wabissa Bede and Cartier Diarra, fouled out, in regulation and overtime, respectively.
Sophomore Hunter Cattoor moved to the point and was able to hit both of his free throws as the primary ball-handler.
“You better always have two-and-a-half point guards and Hunter Cattoor can slide back there. He got those foul shots down and he knows exactly what we want to run in those instances,” Young said. “We had two point guards fouled out, he stepped up to the plate and did his job. I’m proud of him.”
Just getting to overtime was not an easy task for Tech considering its performance early in the second half. The game was tied at 29 after the first half, but Villanova made adjustments and extended its lead out to 12 with under nine minutes left in the game.
In order to complete the comeback, the Hokies’ performance in the paint was crucial. Tech outrebounded the Wildcats by nine in the game and outscored them in the paint by ten.
“I’m not sure we ever outrebounded anyone and I’m not sure we ever outscored someone, certainly not in the ACC, in the paint. That’s what I’m comfortable with and that’s how I’ve always wanted to play,” Young said. “All of these numbers that people talk about, give me a two-foot post-up in the paint, catch and score any day of the week.”
After establishing their game down low, Tech kicked the ball to the perimeter and hit some crucial shots on the outside down the stretch.
“It definitely opens up,” sophomore Nahiem Alleyne said. “If my defender crashes down to Keve, it’s going to lead to open shots like it did tonight.”
Alleyne hit a huge deep-ball at the four-minute mark of the second half to cut the Wildcats’ lead to two. The sophomore scored in double-digits for the second consecutive game, with 20, and was four of six from beyond the arc.
Now, the Hokies have to make a quick turnaround as they prepare for their second game at the Mohegan Sun. Tech will face South Florida at 8 o’clock on Sunday night (ESPN2) before returning home to Blacksburg. They hope to complete an undefeated trip to Connecticut with a win over the Bulls.
“We’re not changing anything. We’re going to play tomorrow, hopefully the same way we played today. It’s just good basketball with kids that share and take good shots,” Young said. “I thought we took very few bad shots. We did take a couple. I think maybe we expect that in game two.”