KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Virginia Tech showed its grittiness on Thanksgiving in its 82-75 win over Boise State, coming out on the positive side in a close, down-to-the-wire game.
“They’ve got a good basketball team,” Tech head coach Mike Young said of the Boise State win. “That is the bottom line. They’ve got a good club; they are really well coached. … It’s a good win for the Hokies.”
The Hokies (4-1) were slow out of the gates in State Farm Field House against the Broncos (2-2), just about spotting them a 16-5 lead five minutes in. But they clawed back and grabbed the lead and the momentum before halftime, taking a 44-41 lead into the locker room.
A similar thing happened in the second half, too. A 9-0 run propelled Boise State back into the driver’s seat with before the under-16 media timeout, but even though Tech went scoreless for three-and-a-half minutes, it bowed up and responded. It didn’t trail over the final 10 minutes, and every time BSU threw a punch, it punched back.
“I think it’s really good, especially to see that this early in the season,” Tech center Lynn Kidd said. “Guys will be like, ‘Yeah, we got punched in the mouth, but we’re coming back, like we’ve got something for you too.’ I think it’s really good, especially for later in the season, because we’ll have adversity and will have to show that we can respond. It says a lot about our team.”
Though it didn’t start that way, the Hokies arguably had their best defensive effort of the season, especially in the second half. They got stops down the stretch when needed and matched Boise State’s physicality. They weren’t perfect for the full 40 minutes, but they showed up when it mattered, which means everything in a close non-conference battle that could boost the team’s résumé come March.
How good was Tech in the late stages of the contest? It held the Broncos to just five made field goals on their last 16 attempts (31%), which were stretched over the final 15 minutes of the contest. You read that right.
Sure, Boise State was 27-of-57 from the field over the course of the game, but the majority of the scoring game early. As time went on, Virginia Tech got better. For comparison, BSU was 54 percent in the first 25 minutes.
“I think, I hope that I saw my team grow up a little bit and develop a little confidence on that end of the floor,” Young said. “They’re worthy of that, that’s really a talented offensive team. Time will tell, long way to go.”
Those defensive contributions came from all over. Young used few players in the second half, opting to keep Sean Pedulla, Hunter Cattoor and Tyler Nickel on the floor with Lynn Kidd and either Robbie Beran or Mekhi Long. Mylyjael Poteat played some too. The result was consistency on both ends.
Crucial plays came from all over, but for the most part, it was defense leading to offense. The Hokies had 27 points off 16 Broncos turnovers, which often led to easier buckets. Though free throw numbers somewhat skew the stats, Boise State didn’t have back-to-back possessions over the final 15 minutes with a basket, which is a credit to how well Tech played.
It wasn’t easy. Tyson Degenhart, who had 18 points and eight rebounds for BSU, is a load at the four. But Tech turned over some of his teammates, particularly Max Rice (12 points, five rebounds, six turnovers) and Cam Martin (eight points, four rebounds, three turnovers).
The Hokies showed their ability to grind out a win in a tight situation, and their energy was a sight to see. Beran lit up the bench around the 16-minute mark when he wouldn’t let go of a jump ball, one small example of the mood around the team.
“It’s not ideal to get down that early and that quick, but I loved our fight back,” Cattoor said. “It’s games like this early in the season that are good for us. Gives us that experience that basketball is a game of runs, you’re going to go down some, you’re going to go up some. How do you respond to those kinds of things? And I thought our team responded well.
“We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to come out stronger and we can’t get down that early, especially in neutral site games like this where you’ve got to bring your own energy, but I think it was good for us. We’re going to learn from it and we’re going to get better.”
On one end, the Hokies helped each other defensively and flew around in a chaotic manner. On the other, they slowed possessions down for the most part and ran their motion, making Boise State chase around screens. They waited for the right moment to attack.
That was on display late in the second half when Beran found a wide-open Kidd under the basket for a dunk, and two possessions later, Pedulla hit Kidd in stride for a transition dunk. The offense found a rhythm based off the defense, the first time that’s been shown this year.
The two Florida natives had quite the nights for Virginia Tech. Kidd, a Gainesville native, finished with 19 points and six rebounds, his fifth consecutive game in double figures. He’s proving to be quite the presence inside, and he led a Tech offense that made a 47 percent clip against BSU.
Beyond the arc, Orlando’s finest was on display. Cattoor broke the school record for most 3-pointers in a career, surpassing A.D. Vassallo’s 267, and did so in nine fewer games. He now has 270 and counting over five seasons in Blacksburg, and it was very fitting that his record-breaking shot turned into a four-point play after he was fouled. He scored 19 points in front of tons of friends and family.
He left the arena with the game ball, a perfect night for a kid that grew up playing on Disney property in AAU tournaments. He put on a show on Thursday on both ends, defending Boise State’s larger wings well while he knocked down five of his 10 treys offensively.
“To do it here in front of friends and family, it’s just a blessing,” Cattoor said. “Thanksgiving, just kind of the year I had last year, to kind of do it here was all full circle. A lot of people have a hand in this record.”
“He’s walking out of the locker room with a ball in his hand,” Young said of Cattoor. “I was like, ‘What do you have that ball for?’ He said, ‘I broke the record, you moron.’ I’m awfully proud of him. Pleasure and a privilege to coach him.”
Pedulla quietly had 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds with two steals, just the third time that’s been done in the last 30 years. Only Justyn Mutts (2021) and Ace Custis (1994) can say they accomplished the same feat with the Hokies. Pedulla had his moments, pressing on occasion but making the right decision most of the time.
He had a slow start and was 1-of-6 in the first half but was 4-of-10 after intermission, including buckets on back-to-back possessions with around two minutes to play. He also made seven of his eight foul shots; only Kidd, who was a perfect 7-for-7 — and is having quite a year as a free throw shooter — was better.
Nickel was an important spark as well. The North Carolina transfer has scored in double figures in three of his four appearances this year and was 5-of-10 shooting against the Broncos. He made quite the impact in the Sunshine State, as did the other two transfers in Beran and Long. While Nickel’s was more on the scoring end, the other two were good defensively.
“We’re going to score enough to win,” Young said. “Tyler Nickel came in tonight and offered a really nice spark for our team. Robbie and Mekhi are defending, they’re doing things that help us win. And we talk about it all the time: Master the things that don’t require you to score. They’re doing that. So we’ll figure the rest of it out. That is on me. I’ve got to do a better job of putting them in better places to score the basketball.”
“I think that we’re all starting to click,” Nickel said. “It’s so early in the season and so having guys like us coming in and playing our first real games of the season… [We’re doing] everything we can to start clicking and I think we’re starting to get there now.”
It was a well-rounded performance on Thanksgiving, albeit for at least 26 of the 40 minutes, stuffed with plenty of good things for Young & Co. to chew on. It’s a result Tech needed, one it could benefit from come March, and is a confidence-builder.
The road doesn’t get any easier over the next week. The Hokies turn their attention to Iowa State on Friday, a game that’ll take place at 5:30 p.m. ET from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and be televised on ESPN2.
The Cyclones, who received votes in the most recent AP Poll, are the 18th-best team in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. His site lists their defense as the sixth-best in the nation, which was on display in their 68-64 come-from-behind win over VCU on Thursday. It’s the third all-time meeting between VT and ISU, the first since 2015 in Destin, Fla.
“T.J. [Otzelberger] is a really good friend,” Young said. “T.J.’s an excellent coach. I think two good basketball teams going nose-to-nose, and I think that’s exactly what we’ll have over here tomorrow at 5:30. … Tomorrow will be a bloodbath. It’ll be a hard game, but we’ll relish the opportunity.”
Tech will also draw one of two ranked foes — No. 12 Texas A&M and Buzz Williams or No. 19 Florida Atlantic — in Sunday’s tournament finale. That’s all ahead of an extra-large road test at Auburn (No. 15 in KenPom’s ratings after Thursday’s games) next Wednesday.
But this type of win over Boise State is one the Hokies can loop back around to if ever questioning their identity. It was a victory where they fought for 40 minutes, even when trailing, and did not give in, which is easier said than done. And they stuck to their principles and found a way to get a result, which is what November is all about.
“It just shows us how tough we really are,” Nickel said. “We finally put it out there on the floor and showed, not everybody else that’s watching, but ourselves that when a real game comes down to the wire like this, with high stakes, because obviously if you lose, you can’t lose this tournament, so coming into an event like this, neutral site, knowing what’s on the line and ultimately punching back and doing what we’ve got to do, it’s huge for our mentality and our confidence going forward.”
Box Score: Virginia Tech 82, Boise State 75