In the final edition of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Virginia Tech defeated Minnesota by 10 in Cassell Coliseum on Monday, 67-57. An explosive first half gave the Hokies an early edge and they never relinquished the lead.
“That’s a good win for us,” Tech head coach Mike Young said after the victory. “Just don’t think we’re playing very good basketball.
“I told ’em during a timeout: ‘This looks like a damn pickup game in July, and I can’t stand watching it in July, and I sure as hell don’t want to watch it here in November.'”
To Young’s point, it was a sloppy ballgame. The Hokies (7-1) turned it over a season-high 14 times and weren’t outstanding in the second half. But with the game tied at 22, they ripped off a 13-0 run over 4:24 right before halftime. Spearheaded by 11 points from Sean Pedulla, it pushed the lead to double digits, which is where it stayed for the remainder of the game.
The Edmond, Okla. native hit a 3-pointer – one of five on the day for the Hokies, who were 5-of-14 – and carved his way through the lane for a layup to start the run. Then Pedulla hit two more runners with a jump shot squeezed in between. Minnesota couldn’t stay in front of him, and he finished with a game-high 17 points (8-of-13).
“He’s not afraid, is he? Sometimes to his detriment,” Young joked about Pedulla. “He’s doing it night in and night out. He’s making better basketball plays, better team plays. I’m a little surprised he was only two assists tonight with one turnover. … He’s a good basketball player.”
Justyn Mutts took over the game for a period in the second half, too. The sixth-year senior was extremely close to his 20th career double-double, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds. Grant Basile added nine points and eight boards as well, and it was a collective offensive effort for the Hokies.
However, outside of the big spurt, Virginia Tech won the game on the defensive end. Minnesota (4-3) shot just 36.7% (22-of-60) from the floor, the second-lowest mark of the season for a Tech opponent behind Lehigh (36.5%). 22 made field goals is the fewest all year, too.
It helped that the Hokies shut down Dawson Garcia and Jamison Battle. Entering Monday night, the duo was averaging a combined 30 points per game. They scored just 11 on a combined 4-of-19 shooting, and though Minnesota head coach Ben Johnson said Garcia was dealing with the flu and was probably on the floor too much, Tech did a great job in the paint.
“I just thought the physicality piece, we didn’t match it,” Johnson said of his group. “And I thought they just kind of wore us down as the game went on. … I think sometimes too, when you’re in that lull, you’ve just got to see something go in, whether it’s a free throw, a layup, anything, and we just couldn’t get one to fall for either of those guys early to make the rim look different.”
From a pure points per possession standpoint, tonight's win over Minnesota was one of Virginia Tech's best defensive performances. pic.twitter.com/Xqo5OWoqfx
— David Cunningham (@ExcelSheetStats) November 29, 2022
The Gophers start four players 6-7 or taller, have a 6-11 big man (Garcia) and a seven-footer (Treyton Thompson). Yet, Young’s crew did a fantastic job on the glass, outrebounding Minnesota 42-27 (+15). It’s the second-largest margin this season for Tech, behind only Delaware State (+18).
Despite that, though, the offense still stalled too often. The ball got stuck too many times, which Pedulla explained as everyone just trying to do the right thing. To fix it, Young said the Hokies will emphasize a segment in practice in the coming days where the players aren’t allowed to dribble. In theory, it should create more motion while minimizing turnovers.
“I think it shifts our focus,” Pedulla said of the unique drills. “Whenever they tell you you can’t bounce or you have one dribble, instead of holding the ball and thinking, ‘Oh, how can I get past this guy,’ it’s like, ‘Well, I know I can’t get past him because I can’t dribble so I might as well just pass it and then try to screen somebody or cut to get somebody open.
“We kind of just get into spurts where we’re trying to make the right play, but we don’t realize that we’re up double digits. And the best way to sustain the lead is just making the defense work.”
The pressure to perform ramps up on Sunday when No. 18 North Carolina comes to town for the ACC opener. Virginia Tech knows it has to be better against the Tar Heels on both ends of the floor. 14 turnovers won’t cut it, and neither will giving up an 11-2 run in the final 1:40 of the game, even with a double-digit lead and the starting five on the bench.
“We’re going to have to play a lot better,” Young said. “That’s just the bottom line. We are not playing at the level that will allow us to win that one, but we’ll take a good team into that game on Sunday. … Our team knows we’re going to have to play better than we’ve played to date.”
Box Score: Link