Virginia Tech held Vermont to an ice-cold start on Saturday afternoon in Cassell Coliseum, which, combined with 10 3-pointers, propelled the Hokies to a 73-51 victory.
The Catamounts (8-4) did not score for the first 6:24 of the contest and missed 17 of their first 18 shots. Though it took Tech (8-3) a few minutes to get going — it led just 5-0 at the first media timeout and was 3-of-9 through eight-plus minutes — an 18-0 run over five-plus minutes opened the floodgates and it led by at least 17 the rest of the way.
“Today was a really good step in a positive direction,” Hokies head coach Mike Young said afterwards.
The two sides were pretty even in the second half after Tech took a 36-17 lead into the locker room, but it didn’t matter much after that point. The Hokies had a 24-point cushion with 7:25 left in the first half and kept Vermont at bay for the rest of the day.
Young was impressed with his group’s defensive effort, which he called the best outing of the season. Tech tweaked its ball-screen coverages and had “ratty hands” and “a good attention to detail on the catch,” according to the head coach, and it affected a Catamounts club that ranked 60th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric on Thursday.
They rely heavily on the three ball — 41.6 percent of their points come from behind the arc, which ranks sixth in the country, per KenPom — but the Hokies limited them to four makes on 20 attempts.
“We had something to do with their cold shooting, make no mistake about it,” Young said. “Limiting them to four makes is quite good. … I think the most important statistic is we limited them to 20 attempts. 50 percent of their shots on goal are from three. That is significant. The best we’ve played defensively, and their stuff is good.
“… A good day for our team. I told them, ‘Don’t let anybody try to convince you that this was just another win. That is a good win. That’s one that we’ll look back on in March and will be a real feather in our cap.”
Lynn Kidd paced Tech with his third career double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds. He scored in double figures for the ninth time in 11 games this season and did so efficiently against the Catamounts on 4-of-7 shooting. He thrived with a minor height advantage — he’s 6-10 while the tallest Vermont contributor was Seth Joba at 6-9 — and got to the free throw line, where he knocked down nine of his 11 attempts.
On the season, Kidd is 86 percent (49-of-57) from the stripe just one year after he shot a 59 percent clip (17-of-29). As a team, the Hokies are the fifth-best free throw shooting team in the country at 79.9 percent and receive 24.9 percent of their scoring from the line, which ranks 15th in D-I. Kidd, who drew 11 fouls on his own against Vermont, is a big reason why.
“Being consistent from the free throw line, it’s a big deal for any team because those are free points,” Tyler Nickel said. “We’re being aggressive and getting rewarded for aggressiveness on the offensive end. … Being able to convert is a big deal for us to be successful.”
Nickel and Hunter Cattoor joined Kidd in double figures with 13 and 10 points, respectively. They each hit two 3-pointers, part of a decent day from downtown for the Hokies, who were 10-of-29 (35%).
For the game, Virginia Tech was 42.6 percent (23-of-54) from the field against Vermont, a good mark in the first half (46%) that dropped in the second (39%) when Young played with different lineups.
A large part of the rotation was at point guard. Junior Sean Pedulla returned from a foot injury that forced him to miss the Valparaiso game a week prior. In his first game back, he played 17 minutes and finished with seven points, two rebounds and one assist. He split time with true freshman Brandon Rechsteiner, who played 23 minutes, had five points, two boards and three assists with no turnovers.
“Scared to death about the possibility of playing without Pedulla tonight,” Young said. “I wasn’t sure we could beat them without Pedulla. But Rechsteiner got 23 minutes and those are critical minutes for a young person coming into his own.”
Mekhi Long, who started his second game at the four spot for Virginia Tech, chipped in two points and seven rebounds. Robbie Beran split minutes with Long, playing 19 minutes, and knocked down one 3-pointer while adding seven rebounds and two assists.
The big lead gave Young an opportunity to spread reps around to some of his reserves. True freshman guard Jaydon Young scored six points in 18 minutes, making two of his three treys, while redshirt sophomore John Camden hit a three in 13 minutes. Redshirt freshman center Patrick Wessler also saw six minutes of action and made his first collegiate basket — a transition dunk via Rechsteiner — and grabbed two boards.
Sophomore guard MJ Collins did not dress out but was in attendance for the Hokies on Saturday. Young said he was dealing with a “sore knee” and did not expand on when the Clover, S.C., native might return to action. Collins suffered a knee injury vs. Florida Atlantic in Orlando on Nov. 26 which kept him out for the subsequent contest at Auburn, though he played in the last two games against Louisville and Valparaiso.
The Hokies have their final non-conference game of the regular season up next on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET vs. American (5-6), the second part of a doubleheader with the No. 16 Virginia Tech women’s basketball team, who hosts William & Mary at 2 p.m. ET. It’s their final tune-up before ACC play really gets going after Christmas.
“It gives us a lot of confidence, especially us already this early in the season having ups and downs,” Nickel said of Tech’s Saturday win. “So to get a solid win like this, knowing how hard we work and everything, being attentive to the plan and everything like that, it’s huge for us mentally knowing we can go out and execute to that level and put on a performance like that.”
Box Score: Virginia Tech 73, Vermont 51