Sophomore Hunter Cattoor played hero at the end of regulation with a buzzer-beating three-pointer to send Virginia Tech (14-4, 8-3) to overtime where the Hokies eventually knocked off Miami (7-11, 3-10), 80-76.
“I’ve got great dudes, I’ve got the best guys that care, they’re always competing, and representing Virginia Tech is a big deal to them,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “We got our tails handed to us at Pittsburgh, but right back we came, they’re able to wipe the slate clean and move ahead.”
Tied at 71 with less than 12 seconds left, Isaiah Wong circled to the left side of the three-point arc and launched a deep three-pointer, snapping the net to give Miami the lead. Wong had a similar shot when these two teams matched up in Blacksburg in December that rolled in and out at the buzzer.
The Hokies were down by three with 2.4 seconds left, needing a miracle in order to stave off a second consecutive road loss. After the initial in-bounds pass was tipped out of bounds by the Hurricanes at midcourt, Young drew up a play that opened up Cattoor for a buzzer-beating three and the sophomore, who initially committed to play for Young in the Southern Conference, hit the biggest shot of his young career.
“We’ve seen him make that shot so many times, and for him to step up and make it at that big of a time in the game, it’s really not a surprise to anybody,” forward Justyn Mutts said. “My mindset at that point was, let’s go win the game. Even though you hit a big shot, the game isn’t over, it’s 0-0 for five minutes. Who’s the better team?”
In overtime, each team only scored two points during the first 4:30 of action. With 25 seconds to go, Nahiem Alleyne dropped in a floater from the paint to give the Hokies the lead. On the other end, Cattoor once again donned his cape and took a charge that ended up sealing the game.
With eight minutes remaining, a finish that exciting seemed out of the question as the Hokies had just gone on a 9-0 run to take a game-high 11-point lead. However, Miami immediately pulled back into it with a 10-0 run of its own.
The first five of those points came from the free throw line where the Hurricanes dominated after halftime. In the second half and overtime, Miami took 22 free throws to just nine for Virginia Tech. The Canes made their first 17 of those 22 before missing three of their last four.
“I think we fouled four perimeter shooters throughout the day, and that’s just such bad basketball,” Young said. “We had the wrong match-up and Aluma’s trying to get to Wong and crashes into him. We didn’t handle it very well.”
Despite Cattoor’s heroics, the best all-around game came from Mutts, who was just shy of his first career triple-double. Mutts led all scorers with a season-high 22 points while also leading the Hokies with nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists.
“The coaches and all my teammates have been telling me to be a lot more aggressive, so I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to get the wins and get the job done,” Mutts said. “At the end of the day, that’s the only thing that really matters.”
Mutts had 17 on Wednesday against Pittsburgh, but that was overshadowed by Keve Aluma’s career-best 30 points against the Panthers. He looked well on his way to another huge game after scoring Tech’s first seven points, but added just nine the rest of the day as Miami keyed on the Hokies’ leading scorer.
For Miami, it was a three-headed attack from Wong, Stony Brook transfer Elijah Olaniyi and Kameron McGusty. Wong and Olaniyi each had 19 to lead the Hurricanes, while McGusty contributed 18, most of which came early. Wong took over in the second half with 16 points after halftime.
“I thought we guarded very well going into the half, but then we kind of softened up,” Young said. “You do that with Wong and he’s going to cut your heart out. It almost cost us, and I shoulder much of the blame for that.”
The surprise performance of the day came from Hokies’ freshman Joe Bamisile who tied his career-high with 11 points off of the bench. Bamisile had played just 14 minutes since ACC play began, but more than doubled that today, playing 25 minutes in the win. Starting guard Jalen Cone injured his ankle early in the game and did not return, which opened the door for Bamisile.
“He was one of the first people I mentioned in the locker room when we got there,” Young said. “Great effort from Joe Bamisile, who is going to be a very good player for the Hokies for years to come. Today was only the start for him.”
Bamisile looks to see his role increase, but that could be harder with the news that Tyrece Radford’s return from suspension could be imminent.
Radford getting back on the floor as early as next Saturday against Louisville would be enormous for Virginia Tech. His return is even more important now due to Cone’s injury. Young confirmed after the game that it was a left ankle injury which occurred in the first few minutes of the game.
“It happened early in the first half, and our training staff took him back to the locker room to look at it and retape it to see if we could go,” Young said. “I got word at about the 12-minute mark that he was on the shelf for the day. I don’t know anything else, to be frank.”
The Hokies hope that Cone will not miss too much time and will get closer and closer to full strength. They’ll need it with three straight games coming up against top-five teams in the conference. After the rematch with the Cardinals in Blacksburg, Tech heads right back on the road for bouts with North Carolina and Florida State.
Before that tough stretch, the Hokies will get a full week off to rest up due to the postponement of Tuesday’s originally scheduled game with the Seminoles.
“I already told them I’m giving them Sunday and Monday off,” Young said. “I really like doing that this time of year, late in the year, in February I think it’s good for them physically and I think it’s good for them mentally.”
This win brings Tech back within one game of the conference-leading Virginia Cavaliers, the only other team in the ACC with eight league wins on the season. The Hokies are right in the thick of the ACC race, and the next few games will be massive in deciding where Tech ends up in the final standings.