No. 24 Virginia Tech overcame a slow start in Saturday afternoon’s win over Grambling State, roaring back from a 10-point deficit to pick up a 26-point win, 74-48. The Hokies (11-1, 1-0 ACC) are off to their best start since the 2018-19 Sweet 16 squad (11-1).
In the second all-time meeting, the Tigers (6-4) jumped out to a 21-11 lead after a 3-pointer from Carte’are Gordon at the 10:49-mark in the first half. Their style of play involves mucking it up and creating havoc, which they did well early. They also made eight of their first 10 shots, often jumping into a full-court press right after, and Tech struggled at the start.
But Mike Young & Co. adjusted. As they have multiple times this season, they found a way to come from behind. The Hokies ripped off a 21-2 run over the final 10-plus minutes and led 34-25 at recess. Moreover, the Grambling State offense, which was very successful to that point, made just one of its 12 field goals during that span.
“I feel like we were a little bit on our heels to start the game,” Tech guard Hunter Cattoor said after the win. “We knew what kind of team they were, we weren’t overlooking them or anything. They came out and it felt like they didn’t miss a shot at the start of the game and we couldn’t get anything going. … But I think defensively, we started going once we started getting stops.”
Grambling State had just three turnovers on its first 16 possessions. After Virginia Tech clamped down, those numbers adjusted – six miscues on the half’s final 13 opportunities.
And like Cattoor described, that led to chances on the offensive end. The Tigers got out of rhythm and couldn’t press. That coincided with shots falling for the Hokies, especially from downtown, and it sparked the run.
“Got a little dicey,” Young said, “but the old people buckled up a little bit. I thought our offensive possessions were pretty good during that stretch. And again, I go back to the defense – we really guarded very, very well from that point on, I thought. I thought we guarded our tails off.”
Indeed. After the quick start, Grambling State was just 11-of-42 (26%) from the field for the latter 30:49.
Tech found its offensive rhythm, too. The team was a subpar 11-of-20 (55%) from the free throw line – the worst percentage with 20-plus attempts in the last two seasons, surpassing the March 2022 contest vs. Clemson in the ACC tournament (12-of-20, 60%). However, the Hokies drained 11 3-pointers. It’s just the fourth time this season they’ve made double-digit treys, the first since Nov. 17 vs. Old Dominion.
Tech hasn’t shot the ball horribly from distance this season – 99-of-276 (35.9%). While that number is down from the 2021-22 crew’s 39.2%, it’s on par with the two years prior – 35.4% (2020-21) and 35.2% (2019-20). But it was calming to see the ball tickle the nylon. It was a reminder that this team, which has posted 40-plus points in the paint in six of its 12 games, can be extremely successful from the outside when needed.
“It’s crazy because you would think that we have such a good 3-point shooting team, but we’re still winning games without the three-ball,” Cattoor said. “It’s kind of a flip from when I first got here. We relied solely on the three-ball, and if we weren’t hitting it, then we’d lose. But it’s also a good thing because it means if we aren’t hitting threes, we can still win games.
“If we’re scoring inside and the threes start hitting, who knows what this offense can do. I think it’s been great for us to win games and not just rely on the three-ball.”
Much of that success is due to the depth in the frontcourt. In Young’s first three campaigns, that aspect was lacking. P.J. Horne was really Tech’s only forward in 2019-20, and while Justyn Mutts and Keve Aluma were mainstays for the other two years, David N’Guessan was the only big contributor off the bench.
It’s different this season. Mylyjael Poteat transferred in from Rice while Lynn Kidd took major strides in the offseason. Together, they’re averaging almost 10 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes per game. Out of 12 games, they’ve combined to score in double figures nine times.
Sean Pedulla (21 points), Hunter Cattoor (13) and Mutts (11) were consistent vs. Grambling State, per usual. But Grant Basile and Darius Maddox (seven each) had quieter games. Yet Kidd and Poteat contributed 11 points and six rebounds. Cattoor joked that they’re always beating each other up in practice, but they’ve helped Virginia Tech win some important games.
“They have been such a godsend,” Young said of Kidd and Poteat. “It’s such a pleasant surprise. … They just make positive plays time and time and time again.”
In all, the Hokies had 19 assists to 13 turnovers against the Tigers and shot 51% (26-of-51). In the second half, they made 61% of their attempts.
After a successful non-conference slate, Tech’s attention now turns to league play. Up first: a road test at Boston College on Wednesday (6:30 p.m., ACC Network). In three games, Young has never beaten the Eagles, losing twice – 2020, 2022 – in Chestnut Hill.
If the Hokies get over the hump, they’ll be 2-0 in the ACC for just the fifth time in 19 seasons in the conference. What about 3-0? That could be decided in a New Year’s Eve date at Wake Forest. Only two teams – 2006-07, 2018-19 – ever got off to that hot of a start, and they’re arguably Tech’s best two teams in the ACC era.
When the gears are turning, this Hokies squad appears to have the capability to reach that threshold. Solid defense complementing an efficient offense could lead to great things.
“We’ve got 19 head knockers left,” Young said. “The first road [game] happens to be in Chestnut Hill. That’s where we’ll be, and we’ll be ready to fight.”
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