At the under-eight media timeout in the second half in TD Arena on Sunday afternoon, Virginia Tech led College of Charleston by eight, 61-53. At the moment, the Hokies had hit 14 of their last 19 shots, including eight of their last nine.
They traded baskets and runs with the hosts all afternoon. In the first half, the Cougars led by as much as 13. Tech soon stormed back to tie it. But when it seemed like Mike Young’s crew might put the game to bed, disaster stuck. The Hokies went cold and College of Charleston heated up, running away with a 77-75 win in the final of the Charleston Classic.
“They’re a good team, don’t get that mistaken,” Tech guard Hunter Cattoor said afterwards. “They came out, they had a good game plan, they played hard. That’s just kind of like who they are. They’re a team that’s going to play hard, they’re going to crash the glass. They’ve got guys out there that can hit shots, and that’s what they did down the stretch.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers from 6-9 big man Ante Brzovic (15 points, 3-of-4 3FG) got the Cougars going with eight minutes to go. And after a great start to the second half, the Hokies struggled down the stretch, making just 4-of-12 baskets in the final eight minutes and turning it over three times. The Cougars? 10-of-14. They proceeded to outscore Tech 24-14 in that span.
Despite Cattoor scoring five points on two possessions to tie the game with :31 to play in the Holy City, the Hokies couldn’t close the deal. Pat Robinson III, who combined with Brzovic for College of Charleston’s final six field goals, scored the game-winning bucket with three seconds remaining, scurrying past Mylyjael Poteat and hitting a floater over Justyn Mutts.
Cougars looking to win their first Charleston Classic.pic.twitter.com/A71q6WPGbF
— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) November 20, 2022
“That’s on me,” Tech head coach Mike Young told reporters afterwards. “We had Mylyjael on 15 and 15 got to his left hand and got to the basket. … I know it was on me as a head coach.”
It was a very back-and-forth contest. The Hokies (5-1) led for 19:06; the Cougars (5-1) for 18:26. For the first time all season, Tech’s opponent led in the second half. And in a game of runs, College of Charleston got the last opportunity.
After a slow start to the first half, one in which Tech shot 40% from the floor, it did well pulling back within arm’s reach of CofC. Moreover, it took the lead in the first three minutes of the second half thanks to an 11-0 run.
But as was the theme for the Hokies in their trip to Charleston, they struggled to put opponents away. They played both Old Dominion and Penn State close. In Sunday’s championship match, the home crowd of 5,100 was the difference, and Tech never put the Cougars away.
“They did a good job of staying poised and not letting us kind of beat up on them a little bit in the game,” Pedulla said of College of Charleston. “They didn’t really make any mistakes towards the end of the game so that’s what made it hard to pull away.”
One of the interesting aspects to the game was the speed of play. Tech is known for playing slow; the Cougars are the opposite, ranking 13th in adjusted tempo according to Ken Pomeroy. And with the home crowd behind them – head coach Pat Kelsey described the atmosphere as “elite” and said they had the “wind at [their] back” – they sped the Hokies up.
Through the first five games, the most possessions they had in a game was 65. For comparison, they had 73 on Sunday. Young said he felt like his group was better in the second half in controlling the game, and shooting 61% in the second half is no joke. But it often felt like Tech was rushed or out of sync.
College of Charleston usually pushed the ball down the floor as fast as it could. That put the Hokies in a scramble defensively, and the motion offense was pressed to score on the ensuing possession. It wasn’t the make-or-break point, though.
“I thought we did okay,” Young said. “I thought we were better in the second half offensively than we were in the first half. They want as many possessions as possible. We’re typically at 62, 63, 64. … I thought our guys did a pretty good job with that part of it.”
The fact that the 3-point shot didn’t fall worked against Tech, too. Neither team was fantastic behind the arc – 22.2% for VT, 34.8% for CofC – but the Cougars made some key shots down the stretch from long range. After a 3-of-19 day at the office vs. Penn State, Tech followed it up with a 6-of-27 performance. That’s a 9-of-46 mark (19.6%) in back-to-back games, and including Lehigh on Nov. 10, Tech has hit six or fewer threes in half of its games.
The fact that the Hokies came so close after being down big in the first half was a positive sign. All five starters – Pedulla (17 points), Cattoor (17), Maddox (8), Grant Basile (12) and Mutts (16) – made important contributions in the second half. MJ Collins grabbed four rebounds, too, and showed some promise.
But in the end, Maddox’s half-court heave careened off the rim as the buzzer sounded, giving Virginia Tech its first loss of the season.
“I told them I had some concerns,” Young said of his team. “Nothing egregious, nothing glaring after our first three games. I needed to see some heat on their backside and see how they would respond. The new guys, Maddox and Pedulla in different roles.
“Three games here, we saw a number of different situations, we played three good ball teams and I’m more convinced now than when we began the trek to the low country about our team’s toughness, our team’s resolve and our team’s ability to win a number of games.”
Box Score: Link