Virginia Tech Guts Out Win vs. Penn State, Advances to Tournament Final

Virginia Tech and Mike Young picked up a big win on Friday vs. Penn State. (Virginia Tech athletics)

In two days inside TD Arena in Charleston, S.C., Virginia Tech has been tested. On Thursday afternoon, it was against a very physical Old Dominion club. In Friday’s matinee, the Hokies held strong in their 61-59 win over Penn State, advancing to the Charleston Classic championship game on Sunday.

“We’re five games in and we needed a tooth sharpener, and Penn State was that team,” Tech head coach Mike Young said after the win. “They’re good, they’ve got a good club.”

Defense anchored the Hokies in game two in the Holy City. In their first four games, they were slightly above average on that end of the floor. Penn State presented the biggest challenge yet, and Virginia Tech met it head on.

On Thursday, Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy led the Nittany Lions in scoring with 20 points each in their win over Furman. Behind an attack spearheaded by Hunter Cattoor, Tech held that duo to 5-of-15 shooting and 13 points.

Young said he genuinely lost sleep on Thursday night thinking of ways the Hokies would defend Penn State’s two main playmakers. Pickett’s excellent at posting up his man and backing him down, so Tech sat Justyn Mutts halfway between his matchup (Myles Dread) and the rim so he had the ability to help. Young & Co. picked their poison – Andrew Funk led the way for Penn State with 21 points (5-of-11 from deep) – and the group effort paid off.

“I thought our team just did a remarkable job [defensively],” Young said. And that’s why we won. We defended at a really, really high level against a very, very good offensive basketball team.”

Tech got off to a hot start in the first 10 minutes and built a 22-6 lead. Much of that was due to good shooting – to that point, VT was 10-of-21 (47.6%). The Hokies were excellent defensively, too. Over that same stretch, they forced the Nittany Lions to start 3-of-15 from the floor and turn the ball over three times. Moreover, Grant Basile and Mylyjael Poteat each had a huge block, 

“I think that’s been a big point of emphasis, just not starting slow,” Basile said. “Coach has been great about that, just getting us going early. It’s tough to play from behind.”

The Hokies scored the ball well early, but it was defense that won them the game in the end. (Virginia Tech athletics)

But just like Old Dominion the day prior, Penn State cut into the margin. Micah Shrewsbery’s squad outscored Tech 23-15 to end the half and made 8-of-13 shots. Into the half, VT led 37-29.

Also like the ODU game, the Hokies led the whole way, even when their opponent applied pressure. But they had to overcome the three-ball not falling on Friday, something they didn’t experience against the Monarchs.

Virginia Tech was just 3-of-19 from long range vs. Penn State. In the second half, it only attempted four (and didn’t make one). Sean Pedulla was 0-of-6 and Cattoor was just 1-of-5. Instead, Tech attacked the paint, scoring 40 of its 61 points down low.

Though it was stressful down the stretch, it’s a positive that the Hokies beat a quality team when they didn’t have their best night from beyond the arc. Friday marked the fewest treys for the program in a win in the Mike Young era.

“I think it’s a great sign,” Young said. “We got some guys can really knock the bottom out of it. We didn’t today. Penn State really guarded us. I think you pick your poison, if you will. [You’re going to] switch things and run us off the arc? Okay, well, I’m going to throw the ball to [Mutts] and I’m going to throw the ball to Basile and I can throw the ball to Poteat and Lynn Kidd and expect something good to happen.

“Three-for-19 from three won the game against a team that can really shoot the ball. … To have those numbers and win I think is a really, really good sign for the Hokies moving forward.”

As shots didn’t fall, the margin shrank. Tech hit just three of its first 10 shots in the second half. But once Penn State pulled within six with eight minutes to play, the ball started to move. Darius Maddox hit a jump shot, Basile made a layup, Pedulla scored from an out-of-bounds play out of a timeout.

The Nittany Lions continued to answer, and there was a three-minute stretch where they traded baskets with the Hokies. But when it got down to crunch time, defense was the answer.

When the Hokies needed stops against Penn State, they got them. (Virginia Tech athletics)

Pickett stepped out of bounds while being guarded by Cattoor at the 4:42-mark. Penn State’s Evan Mahaffey turned it over with just over two minutes to play. And with 4.7 seconds remaining, Penn State called timeout and inbounded from the scorers table. Tech led by two, 61-59.

Camren Wynter drove down the lane but Cattoor, guarding Pickett on the wing, stuck a hand in and forced Wynter to lose control. The ball flew out of his hands and out of bounds with 1.3 remaining, giving the ball back to the Hokies.

Mutts lofted the ball down the court to Cattoor, who tipped it up in the air enough times to kill the clock. Virginia Tech 61, Penn State 59.

“I think we’ve got a really good culture,” Mutts said. “We’ve got good guys on the team that when things start going south, I can look to my left and my right and see guys that I trust, guys I believe in. If it’s a big shot, I’ve got guys that I trust with those big shots.”

For the third time in four seasons under Young, the Hokies are off to a 5-0 start. Yet, for just the first time since the infamous 47-24 win over NC State in 2018, they won when scoring less than 62 points. Tech was previously 0-18 in those instances in the Mike Young era.

Now, the attention turns to the Charleston Classic championship game. Virginia Tech will meet the winner of Colorado State and College of Charleston, the tournament hosts, on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

[Note: As of 7 p.m. on Saturday, the Hokies will play College of Charleston (4-1) on Sunday afternoon. The Cougars beat the Rams by 10, 74-64, in the other semifinal.]

Box Score: Link 

Charleston Classic Bracket: Link 

36 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Did not know Charleston is known as the “holy city” (verified after google search). Learn something new every day! I always thought it was Jerusalem (or depending on faith maybe Mecca, Rome, or even Salt Lake City 😀)

  2. Nice article, David. A good gutsy win is better than a two hour nail biter and a loss. I think games like this can help a team improve and a win is a win. Go Hokies! I like this team (players, family’s, coaches, most fans and our tsl coverage). It’s going to be a fun season.

    1. My thought exactly. Scoring was balanced: fourstarters in double digits, Pedulla and Mutt w/10 ea., Maddox had 11 and Basile had 17. That’s 48 of 61 pts. Cattoor added 3 and 3-Bench players added 10.

  3. Liked starting Basile for opening tip. Poteat
    Can be a force in time. Liked his game today. Was there for the game. Lots of Hokies in attendance.

  4. So, when Tech plays Charleston in finals, is that a “neural site” game or an away game. You only had to watch the Colorado St game for two minutes to know that there will be nothing “neural site” about the final.

      1. Right, there are a load of VT fans here. Many more than in a typical away game. We will be noisy.

  5. Mr. Cunningham, are you like The Athletic writers and a TSL editor comes up with your title after you submit the content? VT did not “narrowly avoid a late scare” yesterday and they did not “guts out a win” today. ODU came back in the second half to provide a everything the Hokies could handle (although it is doubtful they were scared at any time) and VT was fortunate to come out with a win vs the Nittany Lions after an atrocious shooting game (maybe due to intestinal distress) today. I am glad the Hokies are winning ugly, but the level of play (particularly in the second half) is going to have to improve once the team gets into ACC action.

    1. Whining about refs. Whining about announcers. And now we have…whining about article titles. Well done, you.

    2. You realize we just beat a Power 5 team from B1G in a game where our strength (3 pt shooting) was off.

      Are you expecting us to got undefeated? Do you know ANYTHING about how basketball works. It was a good win today…they DID gut out the win

    3. I come up with my own headlines. But I’m also the same one in those press conferences speaking with Mike Young and the players. Was Tech “scared,” as you put it, at any time on Thursday vs. ODU? I don’t think so, but Mike Young sure wasn’t happy on Thursday after the game because Tech played bad basketball and was close to losing. It was a four-point win after Tech led by 20. I’d call that a late scare.

      As for today, Tech had:
      – It’s lowest shooting percentage from three in a win since VMI in 2020
      – Scored the fewest amount of points in a win since 2018
      – Made the fewest amount of 3-pointers in a win under Mike Young

      Call it what you want. But Penn State made a late run, cut it to two and the Hokies gutted it out. They got a stop when they needed one.

      VT wasn’t “fortunate” to come away with the win vs. Penn State. Tech held PSU’s two best players, who scored 40 on Thursday, to 13 points. Tech was fantastic defensively all evening long, even if the shots weren’t falling. Again, the team gutted out a win. What do you do when the back is against the wall and things aren’t going your way? In this case, when shots aren’t falling?

      I think everyone can agree that the level needs to be better. But for you to act like the headlines are out of this world bad is foolish. Tech looked much more comfortable vs. Penn State (No. 34 in KenPom) than it did vs. Old Dominion (No. 152 in KenPom), despite the shots not falling.

      1. Good choice of title and good response David yes our level of play will need to improve as the season moves on but I like what i see and expect continued improvement!

      2. Well said. Ignore the peanut gallery. VT found a way to win against a tough team and one that had matchup challenges for us – big guards who can post up and shoot (Pickett, Lundy), and excellent deep shooter (funk) and a sizable forward who can shoot from deep (Dread). They have a tough, physical team. The only thing I think could have been highlighted in the article a bit more was the offensive play inside of Basile. We know Mutts is outstanding, but they did a good job of forcing him into tough shots and cutting off his passing lanes. We went to Basile, who was very reliable scoring down low when we needed it. He also had a good block down the stretch. He was a good pickup. Anyways, great article as usual!

        1. Agreed. Basile was awesome (glad he picked the Hokies). And Poteat had some nice inside moves and has a nice free throw stroke. Great to see a nice inside game when the 3’s just don’t fall. Gonna be a fun season to watch.

      3. David – appreciate YOUR account of the games. Too bad there are some folks who seem to live in the Schadenfreude Bardo.

    4. A little over the top there, friend, on the personal attack on David. You can disagree without the ad hominem stuff. Anyway, I thought our defense won the game and it’s a good thing we held on when the shots weren’t dropping for us.

  6. 3 out of 19 for the good guys on threes. It’s a great sign that we can still win against a good ball club shooting that lousy. Hats off to the team for hanging on to a tough win.

  7. Live by the three ball die by the three ball. Unless you can enforce and inside presence. VT has that.

      1. Yeah, Aluma could do that sum, but sort of a finesse move, (and I loved the guy’s story) Basile seems more of a guy you can point to the basket and say “go” and he’ll either score, draw the foul or if he doesn’t score at least bang around underneath..

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