Virginia Tech wasn’t perfect, but it did most of the little things right on Monday night vs. Duke.
Grant Basile was in the right position to help on defense against Kyle Filipowski, stripping the ball away. MJ Collins grabbed a loose rebound in the corner, which led to a Basile layup. Hunter Cattoor read Duke’s inbound play and made the game-sealing steal.
As Blue Devils’ head coach Jon Scheyer put it afterwards, the Hokies (12-8, 2-7 ACC) were just one play better than Duke (14-6, 5-4) in their 78-75 win on ‘Big Monday’ on ESPN.
“They earned it,” Tech head coach Mike Young said of his team’s performance. “We played well enough to win.”
Entering the primetime clash, Virginia Tech lost seven consecutive games by a combined 35 points. Take out the two 10-point defeats at Syracuse and No. 7 Virginia and it was five games decided by 15 points.
Young & Co. struggled without Cattoor, who missed five games with a fractured elbow. At times, they looked like the team that shot above 50% against North Carolina and beat Penn State on a neutral floor earlier in the year. But even in recent defeats in Charlottesville and Clemson, they failed to put a complete 40 minutes of basketball together.
Enter Duke, winners of three of its last four, but losers of four of its last five in Cassell Coliseum. The confines of Blacksburg have not been kind to the Blue Devils, and a similar story played out in the 2022-23 version.
Filipowski, the 7-0 freshman, posted a career-high 29 points and his fourth straight double-double with 10 rebounds. But he was the only consistent option for Duke, due much in part to Tech’s stout defense.
While the Blue Devils shot 50% in the first half, Tech limited them to 46% in the second. Tyrese Proctor added 10 points and hit a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left that tied the score at 75. But the only other double-figure scorer was Dariq Whitehead, who left the game early in the second half with a lower leg injury.
Most importantly, Duke entered the game ranked fourth in the country in offensive rebound percentage (38.8%). Virginia Tech allowed just nine offensive boards out of 30 total (30%), the Blue Devils’ third-lowest mark on the season.
At the same time, the Hokies exploded offensively. They were the first team to shoot above 50% against Duke through 20 games this season, finishing 28-of-49 (57.1%). Moreover, they made 10 of their 19 attempts (52.6%) from long range.
Basile was a matchup nightmare, using his body to fend off Blue Devils and slice through the defense. Filipowski, Ryan Young and Dereck Lively II all struggled to keep him at bay at different points in the game.
He finished with 24 points (10-of-15) and eight rebounds, arguably his best performance of the season since he had 23 and 10 vs. Dayton in December. He came up with two crucial blocks, too.
“Basile was terrific,” Young said. “He’s having a good year for us, but he belonged on that floor and asserted himself. Was aggressive and took them into the post a couple of times and ‘bang, bang’ and got to the charge circle and got up over his left shoulder and got a couple down. He was very good. Very proud of Grant.”
It wasn’t all Basile, though. For just the third time this season, Virginia Tech shot 50% or better from behind the arc. In the first half, it knocked down seven of its 10, four via Cattoor. Collins, Cattoor and Sean Pedulla each hit one in big moments in the latter stages of the game, too.
With the three-ball available as a weapon, Tech went to work. In terms of points per possession, the team posted its third-best mark of the year (1.22) and its best in ACC play, topping the win over North Carolina (1.19).
The ball moved. Basile made Duke defend him, which opened up other opportunities. And the Hokies were so good on both ends of the floor with the quintet of Pedulla, Collins, Cattoor, Basile and Lynn Kidd that Young kept Justyn Mutts on the bench for 7:16 in the second half.
“I wasn’t sure we could do it,” Young joked. “Justyn means that much to us. But hats off to Lynn and Grant. I thought we had just enough pressure on the ball when they put it in the post, we trapped them a couple of times in the second half.
“A real feather in those two kids’ hats. They got us home, by and large.”
Pedulla (16 points), Cattoor (15) and Mutts (nine points, six assists) did their part. But at the end of the day, it was Collins who sealed the victory.
With less than 30 seconds to go and the clock winding down, Cattoor drove towards the basket. Drawing defenders towards him, he passed to Collins in the corner in front of the Tech bench. The freshman didn’t hesitate, blowing by Mark Mitchell and hitting a 12-footer over him and the 6-10 Young to give the Hokies the lead.
“He’s having a very good freshman year,” Young said. “His play over the last three, he’s graduated to an elevated class status, he’s not playing like a freshman. … And I’ve got him guarding Mark Mitchell (6-8). Good luck to you at six-foot-four, and he fought his tail off and did a great job for our team.”
And after Proctor missed a three on Duke’s following possession, it was Collins who grabbed the board. He hit one of the two free throws that followed, and Cattoor’s steal on the final possession sent Cassell Coliseum into a frenzy.
Collins never panicked, though. He’s been in those moments before, like in high school when he played against Sunrise Christian Academy, then the No. 1 team in the country. He just reminded himself to stay calm, which he did.
“I think that’s who he is,” Cattoor said of Collins. “He’s all about the right things. He wants to do the right thing. Whatever the coaches say, he’s going to do it. And I think the coaches love that about him, they trust him.
“A lot of guys get caught up in high school thinking they’ve got to go out there and score 30, this and that, and then they get to college and have to do the same thing. I’m sure MJ dropped 30 in high school, but he comes here and he’s only taking two or three shots a game. He’s out there guarding, and if you guard, the coaches are going to trust you.”
The Clover, S.C. native showed his value in Tech’s first 19 games, and when the spotlight came his way in the 20th, he didn’t fret. It showed in his play – not just in his six points, but in his scrappiness and his five rebounds, the second-most on the team.
As a result, he saw most of the minutes that would’ve gone to Darius Maddox (six minutes). And he made the most of it.
His growth, along with that of Kidd (four points, four rebounds), was a big reason why Virginia Tech was able to get over the hump against Duke. Young said the Hokies were “kind of throwing things against the wall” in hopes that they found something that worked, and those two players coming into their own played large roles.
So when Cattoor stole the inbound pass and tossed it up in the air as time expired, it felt like a weight was lifted off the players’ shoulders.
“Just all the relief of the past couple of weeks and to finally play hard for a full 40 minutes and win that game, it felt really good,” Cattoor said.
Tech’s resume isn’t where it wants it to be, but 5-7 in Quadrant 1 and 2 games isn’t terrible for mid-January. As Basile put it, the Hokies just need to find a way to string some good performances together.
Box Score: Link