Only one conclusion could be drawn from No. 20 Virginia Tech’s 65-51 victory over No. 8 Virginia; this team is special and has the potential to make a run in the postseason.
“These guys don’t care who you are, they’re going to fight and they’re going to compete,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “I’m having the best time coaching this team, but not because we’re winning a lot of games. They’re just great people who are about the right stuff. They make it a lot of fun for this old boy, I’ll tell you that.”
The Hokies improve to 13-3 and 7-2 in conference, while Virginia drops to 11-3 and 7-1 in the ACC. The loss also snaps UVA’s fifteen-game ACC winning streak which dated back to February of 2020. This victory not only puts Tech all alone in second place in the league, just behind the Cavaliers, but also marks the best start to ACC-play in program history.
“We’ve got to just keep chopping wood. We’re only halfway through the season and haven’t really accomplished anything yet,” sophomore Hunter Cattoor said. “I think we just have to keep going back to practice and focus on the next game and keep playing hard.”
With ten minutes remaining, Virginia led 42-34 and seemed well in control, but the final quarter of the game was nothing short of spectacular for Virginia Tech. The Hokies scored 31 of the games’ final 40 points, including an incredible 19-0 run, to slam the door on the upset victory.
Aluma had a large hand in the win, putting up a career-high 29 points in his second consecutive double-double. The Wofford transfer was aggressive in the paint, putting Cavs’ star center Jay Huff in foul trouble early. The Hokies’ big man made 10-of-15 shots from the floor and also hit two three-pointers after only having one in conference-play entering the night.
“I think there’s something to the Cassell and getting him back home,” Young said. “He had a nice pop to his step, and getting that first three down was a big deal. Then, he made another one, and that’ll really give you heartburn.”
Aluma played a large role down the stretch, aiding Tech’s big run with nine points during the Hokies’ explosion. However, he deserves all of the credit for keeping Tech in the game early on. He had 16 of the team’s 21 first-half points, keeping the deficit at eight heading to the locker rooms.
“We just had to keep shooting and stay confident,” Aluma said. “Sometimes, just like anybody else, we can get down on ourselves. So, we just tried to stay confident, and everybody else started knocking down shots.”
Virginia’s night offensively was the exact opposite of the Hokies’. The Cavaliers couldn’t miss early on, hitting 10 of their first 20 shots from long range, including four deep threes at the end of the shot clock. Then, they went as cold as the weather in Blacksburg this weekend, missing their final eight shots from beyond the arc and only making one field goal in the final eight minutes.
“It happens every time I see Virginia play. You guard your tail off and Hauser or Kihei [Clark] or Jay is banging a three with just seconds on the shot clock,” Young said. “I thought we were picture perfect and right there, but we had a little bit more toughness and resolve throughout the shot clock. You better have that against that bunch, or they’ll burn you.”
Virginia had scored 80 or more in three of its last four games as Hauser, Clark and Huff started to hit their stride as a trio. The Hokies’ suffocating defense held the Cavaliers to just 51 points, their lowest output of the season.
Cattoor had another big night for Tech and was the true catalyst of the Hokies’ run to take the lead. The Orlando-native put up 13 second-half points, including three huge makes from downtown. The sophomore guard tied his season-high with 15 points total.
“He’s a good ballplayer who can really shoot the ball, and he’s tough,” Young said. “It’s unsurprising that the kid is having a good year for us. He’s walked us out of some things that could have been dicey. He’s a consistent guy who’s going to make open shots, and he’s really improved in his defense.”
This is Tech’s fourth ranked win and second victory over a top-ten team. In the same week that Young’s squad lost starting guard Tyrece Radford to a suspension, the Hokies have made a huge statement that is sure to attract national attention.
“For this team to come back after a tough occurrence and to go to Notre Dame and win and to beat Virginia in here tonight is a real feather in your cap,” Young said.
The Hokies have matched last season’s win total in the ACC and are just half of a game back of the lead in the conference. What was initially viewed as a season to grow in just Young’s second year in Blacksburg has turned into a real opportunity to make waves in Greensboro and possibly in Indianapolis.
“[Our goal is] a national championship,” Cattoor said. “We all thought it was a realistic goal at the beginning of the season. When we come together as a team, we all have the same goal in mind, and we’re just going to keep working towards it.”
Tech won’t have long to rest on its laurels with two road trips looming on the schedule. Next week, the Hokies head north to face the surprising Pittsburgh Panthers before a flight down to Miami for a rematch with the banged-up Hurricanes.