In the training room in Hahn Hurst Practice Facility, Virginia Tech has a board with the ACC men’s basketball standings on the wall.
Two weeks ago, it wasn’t fun for the Hokies to walk past that piece of decoration. After Charlie Moore hit a half-court buzzer beater for Miami on Jan. 26, Tech sat at 10-10, 2-7 in the ACC. Dead last in the league, all the way down at No. 15. Hunter Cattoor admitted he grimaced at times when he glanced at the board.
12 days later, the Hokies have leapfrogged six teams and sit at ninth in the conference standings. Winning four games in nine days – the latest on Monday, a 74-47 victory over Pittsburgh – will do that, and boy, does it feel good.
“I got to be honest with you: I was looking down, it said 14 on top of it,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said of his team’s spot in the league two weeks ago. “Damn. Oof. That is, sheesh. What is going on? World’s closing in on me here. But stay the course. Hang it there.
“Great character in that locker room. Again, I believe in them, man. I believe in them and I care for them. We need a little daylight. I need to coach a little bit better, a lot better. They need to play a little bit better. That’s what transpired.”
That progress has shown since Tech (14-10, 6-7 ACC) lost that heartbreaker to the Hurricanes, and it was on display against Pitt (8-16, 3-10).
As has been the case throughout this stretch of wins, the Hokies shot the ball well: 52.7% from the floor (29-55), 48.1% from three (13-27). It’s the fifth consecutive game Tech has shot a 50% clip or above, a program record.
But it was the team’s defense that really created distance with Pitt in Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies shut down John Hugley and held him to two points for the second time in three days, constantly doubling the post. Young said guarding Hugley is like “wrestling an alligator,” but Tech did a good job with him. Hugley turned it over five times, three in the first half alone.
“That was the key to the game, for real, for both games,” Tech guard Nahiem Alleyne said of shutting down Hugley. “Just being that backside help, being the spy. That’s what the coaches call it. Always being there. If your man rotates, make sure you talk to your man like, ‘you got the spot.’ Once it goes in [to the paint], trap.”
Femi Odukale (16 points) and Mouhamadou Gueye (15) led the way for the Panthers, but they scored just 17 points as a team in the first half.
Trailing by five at the 15:44-mark in the first half, Virginia Tech had missed its first six field goals. But the Hokies pulled it together and went on a 17-0 run over 5:27, forcing Pitt to miss nine straight shots in the process. The Panthers didn’t score for over six minutes, and Young & Co. cruised the rest of the way.
Though Three Hokies – Keve Aluma (18 points), Hunter Cattoor (12) and Alleyne (11) – scored in double figures, it was really a team effort. All nine players that saw more than six minutes of action made at least one basket, and seven of them added at least one rebound.
“It was exciting to feel like we played the full 40 minutes,” Cattoor said. “We went up to Pitt and played really well in the first half, didn’t play so well in the second half, so it felt really good to have a full 40 minutes and play good basketball.”
The bench contribution was particularly outstanding. David N’Guessan (eight points), Sean Pedulla (six), Darius Maddox (six) and John Ojiako (four) combined for 24 bench points, the second-highest mark by Tech in an ACC game this season. That group was instrumental in other areas, too.
Between those four off the bench, the Hokies totaled 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Seven of the dimes came from Pedulla, who did not commit a turnover, and seven of the boards came from N’Guessan, a number second only to Mutts’s nine.
“Quite impressed and pleased with the progress that he continues to make,” Young said of Pedulla. “He’s growing more confident by leaps and bounds here as we move down the trail.
“David N’Guessan is playing great. He was really good, he’s been really good here of late.”
On top of that, Tech had 20 assists on 29 made baskets, tied for the most assists in an ACC contest this season. The Hokies also outrebounded Pitt 36-19, the third straight game where they’ve controlled the glass.
The ball moved, the team hit its shots and crashed the boards. Everything clicked against the Panthers.
Now, a three-game home stand awaits. There’s a Quadrant 2 opportunity and two Quadrant 3 games. North Carolina (No. 42 in NET) on Feb. 19 is the marquee contest, while Virginia (No. 88) and Syracuse (No. 85) are good chances for résumé boosters.
Before Monday night’s win, the Hokies were No. 51 in the NET. KenPom’s updated rankings list them at No. 38.
For a team that seemed to deal with Murphy’s Law (“Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong) through the first nine conference games, Tech is finally turning a corner. Saturday against Jim Boeheim’s crew will be another chance to show that.
“I’m very proud of them, a lot more to look forward to,” Young said. “We’ve got seven left, four at home, three on the road. Let’s win the next practice and find a way to compete and win on Saturday against the Orange, who are playing really good basketball.”
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I think we are a dangerous team and closing out 5-2 or so and a good acc tournament run outs is a decent position. Still not likely to make the ncaa tournament but we have a chance.
Now if they can only maintain that confidence and really having fun in games against very good basketball teams. We’ll find out against Syracuse. Literally, if they maintain the looseness, focus, intensity, and having fun all at the same time they can beat anyone. Not easy…but true…I think.
My friend once told me: The most fun is winning. Now let’s go have some fun!
Well, if you have Murphy on the team, I guess you can expect to deal with Murphy’s law. (ba-dump! I like the guy, just had to get that one out, but Pedulla playing more helps everyone, takes the pressure off) And again, to give the TSL podcast credit when we were losing games pointing out lack of bench time and points, the first line guys were getting beat down mentally and physically and that carries over from game to game too. Nice to see Ojiako score a few, is there still time to get something out of him?
Ojiako is very effective. I’ve been scratching my head in games against ACC bigs that are obviously too much for Aluma and Mutts…they just wear them down. Ojiako is a very effective, good, tough player that needs to be in there more when the bigs are in. Nguessan is going to be very good…but he’s just too light to be effective underneath. Ojiako was coming on strong before he got hurt three years ago. He’s got skill, and isn’t afraid to get nasty, get boards, and work real hard. So I think yes…by all means there is plenty of time…there has been plenty of time. I just don’t know why coach isn’t playing him more.
Ojiako isn’t “very” effective. He’s not even effective by and large against just average bigs. That’s why coach isn’t playing him more.
YEP, very limited mobility due to faulty footwork. He can’t help it as it’s a skill issue. If he stays with us it will be as a backup banger giving relief to the front line.
CMY is being very selective about the matchups Ojiako plays against, which is helping boost his efficiency #’s and percentages. Pitt’s C wasn’t particularly mobile or tall and our game plan was to double him quickly. That limited how much Ojiako’s could be exposed on defense, and Ojiako even handled pick & roll situations pretty well. Then on offense, matched up against a shorter opponent, and surrounded by hot 3pt shooters, he had some room to operate in the post, where he has some moves.
74 47 Final Score
39 30 From Three Point Shots
32 10 From Two Point Shots
03 07 From Free Throws
Biggest VT Lead: 27 (74-47)
Biggest PITT Lead: 5 (5-0)
Last Tie (1): 5-5
Last Lead Change: VT 8, PIT 5
It Was Over: VT 49 , PIT 27
The momentum continues! The Hokies move to 14-10, and 6-7 in the ACC, after winning their fourth in a row! An early 17-0 run erased a five point deficit, and Tech was never challenged again! Unlike Saturday night’s game in Pittsburgh, the Panthers were unable to mount a comeback from the large halftime deficit (35-17). Syracuse comes to town Saturday. A huge game for the Hokies, as they look to keep rolling!
Great ‘team’ effort. Hope Coach has a good plan against Boeheim and Bennett b/c those two are not gonna let their boys let us have open look three’s.
The team’s really putting it together at the right time. Let’s keep it rolling.
Bench minutes were key here. BTW, Aluma only had 6 boards, Mutts had 9.
Good catch, thank you.
More bench play and better results. I think those two are related. Way to go Coach, staff and players. Win the next one. Rinse and repeat all the way to March.
Ditto! GO HOKIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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