Virginia Tech Handles No. 6 Virginia Behind Defense, Sean Pedulla

Sean Pedulla and Virginia Tech have won three in a row against Virginia in Blacksburg. (Ivan Morozov)

After the 78-68 loss to Virginia in John Paul Jones Arena on Jan. 18, Sean Pedulla was disappointed. The Virginia Tech point guard knew UVa’s Kihei Clark got the better of him, and he admitted it. But he let that motivate him.

In Saturday’s rematch in Cassell Coliseum, Pedulla was locked in. He wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t have to be; instead, he made the right plays at the right time. And his game-high 22 points tied his career best while his defense on Clark was pivotal in Tech’s 74-68 win over the No. 6 Cavaliers.

“He had a good, solid game,” Tech head coach Mike Young said after the win. “Didn’t try to do too much, he stayed within himself. He was our point guard. … He distributed. I thought he had two bad shots. Other than that, he competed his face off with Clark.”

Pedulla played with confidence. He was 6-of-13 from the floor and scored eight points from the free throw line while grabbing five boards. But he was patient and calm for the majority of the time. He controlled the flow of the game, and as a result, the Hokies (14-9, 4-8 ACC) led for more than 37 minutes and never trailed.

Victory was sweet for Sean Pedulla and the Hokies. (Ivan Morozov)

At the same time, he held Clark to five points in the first half. Though the fifth-year senior finished with 17, Pedulla didn’t make it easy. And the instances where Clark caught him off guard were few and far between.

“I think just playing with confidence and not letting myself get riled up [was the difference from the last game with UVa],” Pedulla said. “Just playing with poise and understanding to let the game come to me. … Instead of trying to force stuff or instead of trying to make a risky pass, I kind of just made the play that was supposed to be made.”

Pedulla was crucial in the win for Virginia Tech, especially after Clark led all scorers with 20 points in the game in Charlottesville. However, he wasn’t the only one that had a solid defensive game. After giving up 92 points in Tuesday’s loss at No. 23 Miami, which Young described as a “gross” performance, the Hokies bounced back strong.

UVa (17-4, 9-3 ACC), which shot 51% in the first matchup, was 41% for the game. Tech forced seven turnovers and limited the contributions of Ben Vander Plas (zero points, 0-of-4) and Armaan Franklin (six points, 2-of-9). While Jayden Gardner (20 points), Reece Beekman (15) and Clark (17) each scored in double figures, Tech disrupted their rhythm. Young described the effort as as “pretty darn salty.”

Hunter Cattoor and the Hokies were awfully good defensively vs. UVa. (Ivan Morozov)

“I think we had a really good game plan going into this game for how we wanted to guard certain things,” Justyn Mutts said. “And with playing UVa, you’ve just got to be disciplined for the whole 40-minute game, you’ve got to be disciplined the entire time on the floor because any mistake you make, they’re going to capitalize on it. I thought we did a good job of making less mistakes.”

On the offensive end, Virginia Tech put up the second-most points allowed by UVa this season; only No. 11 Baylor scored more (79). The Hokies shot 51% from the floor, the fourth consecutive game above 50%. In the second half, that mark was 56%, and they were 7-of-18 from behind the arc. Moreover, they got to the free throw line 17 times, making 13 attempts.

Tech had its same assist and turnover numbers as it did in the first meeting: 19 and eight. Mutts was a factor once again, scoring with 17 points (7-of-11) while dishing out eight assists. Grant Basile scored in double figures, too, making six of his 10 looks for 14 points. And though he started 0-of-6, Hunter Cattoor drained three of his final four 3-pointers to add 10 points.

Forty of the 74 points came in the paint, an area where Young said the team needed to take advantage. And UVa doubled Mutts time after time, opening up other options. In a game of slim margins, that move by Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers felt like it was one false move in a chess match.

But Mutts enjoys it when teams send help. He’s not a pass-first player, though he has great vision and understands the game. Often times when he was on the low block and UVa brought an extra defender, he had a teammate cutting down the lane while another  was open in the opposite corner. From there, he picked his poison.

Justyn Mutts was an x-factor for Virginia Tech vs. UVa. (Ivan Morozov)

“He’s really, really good at it,” Young said of Mutts’ passing ability. I’m always anxious to see how Coach Bennett handles it. He is such a great passer, as you saw a couple of times, when you don’t go get him and he’s got a favorable matchup, he can just root his way back into the charge circle and get up and over whoever it is.”

The presence of Mutts opened up opportunities for the rest of the Hokies. Basile and Pedulla each knocked down two treys while Cattoor drained three. Lynn Kidd and MJ Collins combined for 11 points. And defense led to transition offense on a few instances.

All-in-all, it was the type of performance Virginia Tech needed against one of the best teams in the country. It’s the ninth ranked win in the Mike Young era (VT is 9-10 in that span) and the first over a top-10 team since Jan. 30, 2021 vs. then-No. 8 UVa. On top of that, it’s another Quadrant 1 win, and it came in front of a great crowd that packed Cassell Coliseum to the brim.

“Moments like this are why I came back to Virginia Tech,” Mutts said.

The students stormed the Cassell Coliseum floor on Saturday night. (Ivan Morozov)

Box Score: Link 

Video Recap by Giovanni Heater

Game Highlights

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2023.02.04. Va Tech vs UVA. Basketball, Men, Virginia Tech, Athletics.

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February 04, 2023. Virginia Tech (Hokies) vs Virginia (Cavaliers, Wahoos, UVA), 74-68. Basketball, Men, Virginia Tech, Athletics. Cassell Coliseum. Blacksburg, Virginia. Photo © Ivan Morozov

25 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I haven’t followed closely but I know Maddox has struggled this season but hasn’t played at all last few games…what’s the story ?

  2. I’m happy to see MJ driving to the rim. We haven’t had that since Boots left.
    I think Rice was supposed to drive– hope he’s back soon.
    Could Maddox’s family issues be the cause of his inability to score this year?

  3. It’s still the ref made a great call on the offensive interference on the soft dunk – and a ref couldn’t see the obvious foot slide (walking) at the end of the game.

    There were a few other head scratchers – but not as bad as the game at C’ville.

    In any case – great win over a very good UVa team.

    1. Even when he is standing 3 ft. from the basket. I saw that once in this game. He was standing right in front of the basket and he tried to dish to someone 2 ft to the side of the basket with two people around him. I think Mutts had the easier shot.

  4. I’m sick of losing to BC!This is a game we must must win,lose it and short of another ACC Championship our NCAA Tourney hopes are over!Always great to beat the Hoos,especially when they are supposedly the number 6 team in the country!

  5. Well DC – You are 3-0 in predictions from your resume update article, although I’m giving you credit for all toss-ups. So, you had the next 3 as wins. If you are right, we will almost certainly make the NIT and have a realistic, but long, shot at an NCAA bid.

    Because of their offensive rebounds, they got 8 more FG attempts than we did and made 2 less and that’s the difference. Big win! To me, the most noticeable difference the last few games is Pedulla’s shot selection and Basile taking more shots.

      1. Yep, as coach said “Didn’t try to do too much, he stayed within himself…” because Cattoor can now take some pressure off of him. With Cattoor out, Sean was trying to do too much, taking the load over and pressing too much. Other teams recognized the pressure point too and really hounded him the entire game. Can’t do that now.

      2. Bingo!! As I’ve said, nothing wrong w/this team that a return to the lineup of Cattoor wouldn’t help.

      3. I see that but I am referring to the shots he was forcing. He is taking less shots now because he is not driving into a crowd or firing long bombs. If he was not getting good shots before he should have passed on them. But, he wasn’t.

        1. Did it a couple of times but yes, that number was down a lot from earlier this season. Being able to sit him on the bench for a few minutes a game seems to have helped.

    1. Where are the loons now didn’t want Mike Young in the first place and not that long ago wanted to dump him? You know who you are.

      1. That’s not me. I am good with MY as coach. But, this season isn’t over and we have still started two consecutive ACC seasons 2- 7. I don’t think we can always count on miracle finishes to make it into the post season.

        1. It’s not how we started this season. It is the fact that we don’t have enough depth this season to overcome injuries.

          1. We were told this team had a lot of depth compared to last year. Glad Camden is getting important minutes while Maddox out.

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