Seven minutes into Saturday’s contest, Virginia Tech trailed Florida State by eight. The Hokies were 4-of-9 from the floor but just 1-of-5 from behind the arc, and they needed someone to spark a run.
Hello, Sean Pedulla.
In high school, he had a game where he made 10-of-12 field goals. Up until recently, that’s what the freshman from Edmond, Okla. would’ve described as his best shooting performance ever. That is, until he stepped foot in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee.
Pedulla proceeded to drill three treys on three consecutive possessions in 1:27 to bring his team within one, forcing Leonard Hamilton and FSU to call timeout. He finished the half a perfect 5-for-5 from deep, and his presence kick-started Hunter Cattoor, who made three of his own (on five attempts) before intermission.
Tech was 9-of-14 (64.3%) from 3-point range through the first 20 minutes and led by eight, 39-31.
In the second half, it was Cattoor’s game, and the junior was a perfect 6-of-6 from behind the arc. The Hokies were lethal from long range as a collective unit – 18-of-25 (72.0%) – and held on down the stretch to snap a three-game losing streak, beating Florida State 85-72. It’s the program’s first win in Tallahassee since 1990.
“I think it speaks to him [Pedulla] as a human being and a character that he was bad [vs. Miami],” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said of Pedulla. “I alerted him to that a couple of times Thursday and Friday, but I have great faith in him, and he’s tough as a pine knot. He recognized he played poorly, but he recognized that he’s a major component in this club.”
Cattoor (27 pts) and Pedulla (20 pts) combined for 47 of Tech’s 85 points and hit 15 of their 18 3-point attempts. Per college basketball reference, they are the only pair of teammates in the last decade to shoot a combined 80% from three on at least 18 attempts in a single game.
Their play was crucial in a game that Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts were not their usual selves. Both bigs dealt with foul trouble, and Aluma finished the game with four personals. Mutts only had three and played more, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists, but there were stretches of the game where the Hokies (11-10, 3-7 ACC) had to fend without both of them.
That, along with Florida State (13-7, 6-4 ACC) struggling to cover Tech’s shooters (and just refusing to close out on certain instances), opened the door for an excellent night from downtown for the Hokies.
In the first seven minutes of the game, Virginia Tech was 1-of-5 from behind the arc.
Over the other 33 minutes: 17-of-20. #Hokies
— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) January 29, 2022
They set a new program record for most treys in an ACC game (18) and for the highest 3-point field goal percentage in a league contest (72%). Cattoor also tied Justin Robinson’s record for the most triples in a single game with nine.
Combine that with six points off the bench from Darius Maddox (1-2 3FG), who had three steals, and six points from David N’Guessan, and Tech accounted for Aluma and Mutts not being themselves.
“A great sign as we head to the second half [of ACC play] where Aluma doesn’t have his best stuff,” Young said. “We typically get 25 from that bunch, but we’ve got other people picking up their wagon and making winning plays.
“We’re not going to make 18 threes night-in and night-out, but continuing to get good play and smart, intelligent play from Sean [Pedulla] and Darius [Maddox] and those guys is a real shot in the arm for our club.”
In the first eight conference games, Young & Co. only had more than 10 points off the bench once (17 at NC State). In the last two contests vs. Miami and at Florida State, they’ve received 55 points off the bench. 23 against the Canes, 32 in Tallahassee.
“I’d say the last three or four games, we’ve definitely picked up some of the slack that we had earlier on in the year,” Pedulla said afterwards. “Other than last game, I didn’t think I played my best, but just the ‘next game’ mentality. … I just focused on this game, did what I could to get a win.”
To get that third league victory, Tech locked in defensively. Yes, the Seminoles shot 50%, but they turned the ball over 14 times. 42 of their 72 points also came in the paint, and 15 were product of the free throw line. But FSU made just 5-of-13 3-point attempts (38.5%), and the Hokies kept them on their heels.
“Constant tweaks throughout the ball game, and we finally got to something,” Young said. “I don’t like to do it, I hate it, going under the ball screen. You don’t want to go under two, you want to go under one. So we’re going to pop back. Now we can muddy that up, for lack of a better expression, and Aluma, Mutts, whoever is guarding the big rolling to the basket, we can manipulate that a little bit.”
The Seminoles were missing a few key pieces. Caleb Mills played just three minutes, Malik Osborne was out due to an ankle injury, and RayQuan Evans was not available.
Still, Hamilton’s bunch gave Tech fits. Anthony Polite led the way with 17 points and six boards, while Naheem McLeod added 15 and Matthew Cleveland had 10.
However, it wasn’t enough to overcome Tech’s hot shooting, particularly in the second half. A 14-0 run by the Hokies over 2:24 (7:03-4:39) pushed the game out of reach for Florida State, pushing the lead to 16. From there, it was all VT, who got a much-needed win.
The victory is Tech’s first this season in Quadrant 1, and it’s a confidence boost ahead of what one might consider an “easier” part of the team’s schedule.
A home game against Georgia Tech (No. 145 in NET) awaits on Wednesday before two clashes with Pitt (No. 191). Then, it’s a three-game home stand with Syracuse (No. 104) and two teams Virginia Tech almost beat in January: Virginia and North Carolina.
Will Young’s crew be able to keep the momentum going? Only time will tell, but every good win streak starts somewhere.