As beautiful and spontaneous as the rise from 10-10 (2-7 ACC) to ACC Tournament Champions was, the road came to an end for No. 11 seed Virginia Tech on Friday afternoon in Milwaukee vs. No. 6 seed Texas.
After the Hokies were on an emotional high over the last month, the Longhorns put their foot down and broke up the party, winning 81-73 in Fiserv Forum and ending Tech’s season.
“Longhorns outplayed us, needless to say,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said after the loss. “They were better than we were this afternoon.”
“I think we just beat one of the best teams in the tournament,” Texas head coach Chris Beard said. “To hold that team to four made 3-point shots was really where our defense was on point.”
On Thursday, Beard said his team was centered around the play on that end of the floor, and he wasn’t lying. That aspect showed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia Tech turned the ball over 13 times, the 13th such occurrence this season. Nine of the giveaways came in the second half, including three each from Justyn Mutts and Storm Murphy.
The best defensive team the Hokies saw in 2021-22, Texas ran them off the 3-point arc, allowing a season-low four makes from deep, and never allowed them to find a rhythm.
“They were taking away easy catches on the top of the key,” Hunter Cattoor said afterwards. “Whenever we came down the screen, they were topping it, not letting us come off easily and so it forced us to get to the basket and get two. And so they were just going to live with that.”
Indeed, Texas played that dangerous game, and boy, did it work. The gameplan, which Beard described as three-fold, started with having a good day against Tech’s 3-point shooting.
“Fortunate for us, that’s where the game was [won] by us,” he said.”
Offensively, Tech parked Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts on the interior, while Cattoor and other shooters roamed behind the arc, not an easy combination for a defense. Texas picked its poison, to which Young alluded. And it was like the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade turned to Beard and said, “You have chosen wisely.”
The Longhorns were physical and blew up everything, taking Virginia Tech out of rhythm. Open looks did not come easy, and the Hokies didn’t make some crucial attempts they received. Pedulla was the lone player with multiple baskets from distance (3-of-6), while Cattoor’s make came in the final 45 seconds.
Tech’s frontcourt of Aluma and Mutts combined for 24 points on 10-of-15 from the floor while Cattoor added 12 points. Sean Pedulla led the Hokies with a team-high 19 points off the bench, ten of which came at the free throw line.
But to go along with the stingy defensive effort, Texas also had one of its best offensive performances of the season.
The Longhorns dropped 81 points, the most Tech allowed all year, and shot 52.5% from deep, their second-highest mark of the 2021-22 campaign. The high, 59%, came in their season-opener on Nov. 9 vs. Houston Baptist.
It was all Andrew Jones in the first half, who scored a game-high 21 points. 17 of those came in the opening stage, where he was 5-of-6 from behind the arc. The scorer of six of Texas’s 11 field goals, Jones singlehandedly kept the Longhorns in the game.
The script flipped in the second half when the other four starters – Timmy Allen, Christian Bishop, Marcus Carr and Courtney Ramey – all scored nine-plus points. Bishop was the headliner with 11, while Carr and Ramey added ten each.
Out of the break, Texas shot 64% from the floor, made three of its six attempts from 3-point range and slowly pulled away. Virginia Tech never led after intermission.
This is the same Texas team that entered the Big Dance shooting 32.3% from long range, good for No. 243 in D-I. Combine that with the Hokies’ season-low makes from three and it just wasn’t Virginia Tech’s night in Milwaukee.
“You know, the basketball gods,” Young said. “It’s not a very good shooting team. They’re very, very, good, all right? You know, Big 12 and so on. But combination of good day for the Longhorns and not as good a defensive effort as we’ve come to expect.”
It’s a disappointing end to a rollercoaster of a season for Virginia Tech.
The ride started well, took a turn into a dark tunnel, and then floored out into the light. The 100-foot drop led to the greatest moment of the entire journey, a core memory in Brooklyn, all before water splashed up into everyone’s face to bring them back to reality.
Like any amusement park enthusiast who just experienced their stomach drop in an unusual way, it’s going to take some time for Young & Co. to process what they just witnessed. But when it settles in, despite the sour result more than 700 miles away from home, it’ll be a special memory.
“Those guys hung in there and continued to come to practice and didn’t separate,” Young said. “We get a basket in at the buzzer to advance [vs. Clemson] and then rattle off consecutive wins, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke to win the ACC Championship. Not taking that away, ever.
“[We’re] going to continue to come here [to the NCAA Tournament], need to win here.”