Virginia Tech Comes Up Empty Handed Once Again, This Time At Virginia

Virginia Tech came up empty handed in Charlottesville on Wednesday. (Jon Fleming)

In a game that featured 13 lead changes and came down to the wire, Virginia Tech let another win slip away, this time in a 54-52 loss to Virginia.

The Hokies (8-7, 0-4 ACC) shot 42%, hit seven three-pointers and held UVa to 40% from the floor in Charlottesville. But it was the final three minutes that determined the outcome, and the Cavaliers (10-6, 4-2 ACC) were the better team down the stretch.

Leading 52-49 with 3:01 to play, Tech turned the ball over three times and missed three field goal attempts, two at the buzzer.

An errant Justyn Mutts pass was followed by a lost ball and a travel from Keve Aluma. The Hokies attempted just one field goal – a hook shot from Aluma with 1:08 to play – in four possessions. It wasn’t until they trailed by two with five seconds left that they hoisted two shots, both of which did not fall.

Head coach  Mike Young & Co. stayed competitive on the glass – a 31-29 margin in UVa’s favor – but were outmatched in points off turnovers (14-3), second chance points (9-2) and bench points (18-2). A common trend as of late, Virginia Tech came up empty handed again.

“I thought we had good shots [down the stretch],” Young said afterwards. “Keve [Aluma] just had an unfortunate play. The last one, Hunter [Cattoor] gets a great crack at it and Justyn Mutts sticks his nose on the offensive glass and gets that thing back out of there and we get a pretty good crack at it from Storm that doesn’t go down.

“Did Virginia stiffen up and play good defense? They did … I think it was just a matter of a really good Virginia defense that just got the better of us in that particular stretch of the game.”

Keve Aluma (22 points, 9-20 FG, 6 rebounds) had a phenomenal night and was the best player on the court. He singlehandedly kept his team in the game, though he isn’t Superman.

He beat both Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro off the dribble frequently, but when the Cavaliers trapped him with two minutes to play, it surprised him. The fifth-year senior turned it over out of bounds. Then with an opportunity to tie the game with 15 seconds to play, he slipped while driving to the rack and was called for a travel.

Keve Aluma led all scorers with 22 points at UVa. (Jon Fleming)

“The kid [Aluma] played his guts out,” Young said. “Such a difficult matchup for a number of people. [Francisco] Caffaro and [Kadin] Shedrick did a good job with him, very physical. I thought a little more physical than we’re accustomed to.”

Hunter Cattoor and Storm Murphy each contributed ten points, but Aluma was the sole motor for much of the game. Nahiem Alleyne and Mutts scored just eight combined points, and the lone bench bucket was a second half dunk from John Ojiako.

Though he hadn’t played much as of late, Ojiako saw 13 minutes due to foul trouble with Mutts. Darius Maddox also played eight minutes. However, Sean Pedulla and David N’Guessan didn’t get more than two apiece.

Still, Tech had its best defensive performance in league play to date. UVa shot 40%, including 36% in the first half, made just three treys and star Jayden Gardner was held to four points (2-10 FG).

Earlier in the week, Young preached connectivity on the defensive end. He got that, and the Hokies played well enough to win the game.

“I thought we were much better in that regard,” Young said. “Coach Bennett tweaked some things over the course of the game. Ran something down there that put them up one that we hadn’t seen in quite some time and scored on it, but I thought we were very connected. I thought we played exceptionally hard. I thought we played Virginia Tech basketball.”

Tech just didn’t have the boost off the bench that UVa did.

Aluma is talented – he’s scored in double figures in all but two games – but he can’t do it all. Murphy and Cattoor combined for 20 points, but Wednesday night showed that there isn’t enough depth on this Hokies team at the moment to consistently win ACC games.

It was the opposite with Virginia. With Gardner not his usual self, Caffaro stepped up and had a career night: 16 points, 10 rebounds. Defensively, he was physical with Aluma all night long, and he provided an aspect off the bench that the Hokies just couldn’t match.

“Caffaro’s a good player, now,” Young said. “He’s a big, physical young man and take nothing away, he played a really good ball game.”

The Hokies are 0-4 in the ACC after the loss to Virginia. (Jon Fleming)

At 0-4 in the conference, Virginia Tech’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. After hosting Notre Dame (10-5, 4-1 ACC) on Saturday, three straight road games await, including five of the next seven away from home.

An experienced team with three fifth-year seniors and two juniors is winless in the ACC. No one would’ve projected that at the beginning of the season. Yet, it’s the reality.

“We’ve kind of dug ourselves a hole, but at the end of the day, we realize what team we can be and what team we are,” Cattoor said. “We just have to show that out there. Obviously four ACC losses, it’s going to be hard to get back up from there, but it’s going to be a challenge. We’re going to have to get back to practice and work hard at it.”

The group seems close to getting over the hump. Indeed, their defensive numbers have improved lately, and they’ve led late in their last three league contests. But at some point, wins and losses go farther to prove a team’s identity than metrics, which currently like the Hokies.

When it comes down to it, Virginia Tech lacks depth. And when starters have off-nights, the team is stuck in a bind. The Hokies will continue to search for answers, as any competitor would, but at this point, even a trip to the NIT seems like a long shot.

“At the end of the day, we have to play good basketball and keep chugging away,” Murphy said. “It’s not like we need to completely change our system and completely change these things. I just think we have to stick to it and trust our coaches and really try to focus on coming in and having a good practice. Know that we can’t waste a moment together as a team, we can’t waste a single possession.”

That may be true, but it’s like a ship that’s taking water. Unless you’ve got excellent tools to overcome it, you’re bound to sink sooner or later. Tech’s kept afloat for now, but after the loss in Charlottesville, it doesn’t look like the Hokies are going to be able to bail themselves out between now and March.

Box Score: Link

37 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. The article says the Hokies played well enough to win, which really isn’t true. They did not play well enough in the last 3 minutes to win in a tight game, when they were throwing the ball away and slipping and missing shots. The article is correct in saying the team lacks depth, which can lead to players not making plays when the game is on the line. A fresher Storm Murphy might make that last shot if Sean Pedulla has played long enough to help Storm conserve some energy. They are good enough to keep games close and then lose at the end if Young doesn’t start using his bench more.

  2. For the majority of the fall, all I could say is I can’t wait for basketball season to start. Now I’m more disappointed with the Men’s Basketball team then the Football team. Unbelievable.

  3. This is starting to remind me of the 2005-2006 season when we were snake bit and had a terrible season in conference. I am really starting to question Mike Young and his loyalties. Changes need to be made to try and generate a spark to the starting lineup and he isn’t doing it. This is a wins and losses business. You want to do right by your players of course but playing guys that aren’t effective is just plain silly.

  4. “At the end of the day, we have to play good basketball and keep chugging away,” Murphy said. “It’s not like we need to completely change our system and completely change these things. I just think we have to stick to it and trust our coaches and really try to focus on coming in and having a good practice. Know that we can’t waste a moment together as a team, we can’t waste a single possession.”

    It’s statements like these that make me crazy. Actually, Storm, my man, YES, the system and lineup needs to be changed. The under-reporting on John Ojiako’s effectiveness is astounding. Without him in the lineup (before they pulled him and UVA bigs took over and we lost) we would have easily been down 15 during the game. Easily.

    Starters: Ojiako, Aluma, Mutts, Cattoor, Murphy. This will get us wins if you leave John in late to deal with other bigs and free up Aluma and Mutts. Seems so obvious to me. I’m astounded at their lack of vision for John and how much he helped this team last night. There will be NO SHORTAGE of difficult big men in the ACC. Putting Aluma against them is NOT a winning strategy. We’ve seen it repeatedly fail at no fault to Aluma…he’s a 4…shouldn’t be expected to do what’s he’s doing. FREE HIM UP!

  5. Yes we miss Radford but given his off the court snafus he could hardly stay kept violating the rules. Could non drive in Virginia. He was given a second chance and blew it I’m disappointed that Buzz would even consider taking him

  6. the most frustrating part, 6 of our losses could have easily been W’s. Gotta learn to finish. >>>>

    Didn’t VT just have a football season with this kind of results? 🙂

  7. I remember one play in particular where Storm and Cattor had a little bit of a fast break but obviously they could not capitalized on it due to their lack of athleticism. In that moment, I started to miss J. Rob and Alexander-Walker.
    To be frank, I miss Buzz. I don’t think Mike Young has what it takes. I may be closed-minded but I keep thinking we are a So-Con team playing in the ACC. (A weakened ACC too)

  8. Alleyne needs to sit on the bench. He had a couple good plays last night, but it’s clear he’s not a fit or in shape on his jump shot to start or even play the 6th man.

  9. Unfortunately, we don’t have a dependable clutch player to go to at key points in the game. Other than the shot Catoor made against Miami, I can’t recall another. Last night two of our best 3pt shooters had good looks to win the game but neither dropped. They seem to never do.

  10. Every shot in the last few mins of the game was a front rim Miss except Catoor’s miss with 5 seconds that missed off the back of the rim. The team has no legs and their shots come up short at the end every game I’ve watched this year…been the same script since Memphis. Aluma has made some bad plays and missed some easy shots in crunch time. Love him, but the truth hurts sometimes.

  11. Hate to say it, but I predicted this to a “T” in a previous article. Forget the nuances, but the end game is that Big John gave great minutes and kept their bigs busy. All game. Then, VT had the lead, coach took John out, went back to starters. UVA proceeded to put their bigs back in. They immediately bullied Aluma and Mutts, took the lead back, and Aluma was frustrated offensively at the end because there was no Big John to create space for him, and he pressed against two ACC bigs and failed. If we just maintained confidence to leave Big John in at the end of the game along with Aluma, Mutts, Cattoor, and Murphy then I believe we would have maintained the lead and won the game. The silver lining is we are learning how effective a big #5 can be for us playing the role of “complement/supplement” to free up Aluma so he doesn’t have to go against massive ACC bigs every single time.

    1. Frustrating to watch

      Playing big worked and we did not use it

      Sad to watch us fail to use the best parts of our roster

      A few more minutes from our bench would help our team

      With our depth no reason not to use it to our advantage

  12. I predicted they would lose this game, and they did.

    Nothing special about that, just that it was an easy call from someone like me who knows only what he has seen.

    This team, this coach, have big problems going forward.

  13. Shooting below 50% for someone who should be inside oriented player is or a phenomenal night . Not saying Aluma had a bad game but 9-for-20 isn’t part of phenomenal

  14. I think this is showing what a big loss Radford was…he added another dimension to our game.

  15. Man this team misses someone who can drive to the hoop. We have 2 starters that are absolutely no threat on the offensive end and not a lot of bench help. Just too limited on the offensive end. This may be the worst or at least 2nd worst team in the ACC

  16. At out 3:15 min. time-out our legs were gone. We got nothing from the bench and as super good that Keve was, he got no help. We don’t get to the FT line because we don’t attack the basket. Boots would have made a difference to this team all year, This is the worse UVa team in years, but beat us. Sad.

    1. We only had 3 FT attempts. One of Buzz’s key stats was FT’s, and the ability to get to the free throw line. None of our guys pump fake to get a foul.

  17. Among the best games I’ve seen all year in all of college basketball; if you like defense. Biggest issue for me is lack of playing time for the bench. As the long season progresses, this will hurt us more and more as the starters wear down. I’d also sure like to see Mutts play offense as well as he does defense and hopefully the two 3s by Alleyne is the beginning of him breaking out of his scoring slump. We need his points badly.

  18. Starters need to score points. Two are not doing the job.

    Time to gain experience and play for next season. Play the bench.

    Expectations like they were in football, close games but no stamina. Overhyped and unfortunately lacking talent so far. Hope they can get it together but…

    UVA is hardly Superman.

  19. Except for Keva and Catoor, no one else has improved their game since last year. Common thread for the ACC losses is poor guard play and can’t close down the stretch. Pedulla gets 2 minutes, DNG gets one minute, and Maddox gets 8 minutes. Our legs are shot when we get little contributions from the bench and play so much. Inability to find a replacement for Radford shows how much we miss him. Team has been a major disappointment so CMY at 8-7 time to play Sean and Maddox

  20. Tonight’s game was the first I’ve seen in person this year. There has been plenty of talk about the amount of time it takes for Storm to bring the ball up court. It looked like he did a decent job for the most part. What I saw was Storm angleing away from the uva defender numerous times, forcing him to one side of the court or the other, making it harder to start the offense . Storm was avoiding any contact with Clark. It made me think of when Malcom Delaney brought the ball up court. He forced the contact and either got fouled or got to the spot he wanted. I don’t know if Storm understands that or just didn’t have the ability to keep Clark off him.

  21. I think this team plays great team basketball at both ends but we don’t have the athleticism to compete when other teams turn up the defense at the end of a game. Because we don’t have the athleticism we don’t have another gear to finish games. Which means we will continue to lose close games. We held UVA to 5 pts in last 3 minutes which is pretty good really. Should have been enough to win. We are going to need a significant lead going to the last few minutes to pull it out.

  22. We’re headed toward a losing record for the season. Unfathomable a month ago, but highly likely now. With the size and potential of this team, hard to figure…,

  23. This team simply just doesn’t know how to handle big moments in big games. We have seen it time and time again this season. Up by 3 with the ball with two minutes left, Mutts throws it away on a miscommunication with Aluma. Next possession up by 1, Aluma falls and it’s a travel. Alleyne, despite making two three pointers in the midst of a slump, spectates in the corner on multiple possessions.

    This team has to find a way to gut out a tough win. Of the eight wins it has, seven have come by at least 20 points. Of the seven losses, six have been within their grasp in the second half. They play very well when they know one possession won’t make or break them. When the game is close, they find ways to lose.

    1. Nope – last night they looked like a bunch of freshmen when it became crunch time. That turnover by Mutts was pitiful – a minute to go and you make a lazy pass for a turnover. Really?

    2. That’s the most frustrating part, 6 of our losses could have easily been W’s. Gotta learn to finish. And fast.

      1. Many of the games remind me of the women’s games last year when they couldn’t win a conference game. Then they beat NC St and they went on a run of wins. They learned how to close a game. It just hurts to see a team work so hard and still come up short.


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