Virginia Tech came up short against Miami on Saturday in Cassell Coliseum, losing 75-71.
“We did everything we could to keep a body on a body,” Tech head coach Mike Young said after the loss. “Battled. They were a little bit better. Sometimes good offense beats good defense.”
Playing without Hunter Cattoor, who Young said is day-to-day with a head injury, the Hokies (10-6, 2-3 ACC) led the Hurricanes (12-4, 3-2) for most of the first half but could not close out the game.
Tech point guard Sean Pedulla, who had a career-high 33 points and 10 rebounds along with four assists, hit a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining that cut the team’s deficit to three, 74-71. After the Canes turned it over on the inbound, the Hokies had a look with five seconds remaining, but MJ Collins’ three from the top of the key rimmed out.
“I thought he didn’t take the better look he had, he kind of gathered himself, which allowed the defender to get a better ability to contest the shot,” Young said of Collins’ look. “But I thought [it was a] pretty good shot, really did.”
Pedulla recorded his third consecutive game of at least 25 points. The only other Tech player to accomplish that in the ACC era is Erick Green, who did it three times in the 2012-13 season. Pedulla’s also the second Tech guard in that span with a 30-10 game, joining A.D. Vassallo, who did it in March 2009 vs. Duquesne, and is the second Tech player since 2004 with back-to-back 30-point games along with Grant Basile, who did so last season.
The junior has played with an incredible level of confidence since returning from a foot injury he suffered in late December. Young joked that he’s never short of confidence, but Pedulla has 91 points, 16 rebounds, 13 assists and is 31-of-56 (55%) from the floor, 14-of-29 from three (48%) in the month of January.
“I’m just playing super confidently,” Pedulla said. “I know the team needs production out of me and I was kind of displeased with the way I was playing the prior week so just wanted to turn things around and start winning games. I think we’ll be in a good spot, but we just have to finish games and play complete games, but I like where I’m playing. Still too many turnovers, but again, Miami does a good job of that.”
Lynn Kidd joined Pedulla in double figures with 16 points, which came on a perfect 8-of-8 shooting. He scored 14 of those in the second half. However, despite shooting better in the second half — 57 percent as opposed to a 40 percent first-half clip — their offense got stuck at moments in crunch time; they missed three of their last four field goals.
In fact, Pedulla and Kidd combined for 31 of Tech’s 41 second-half points. Collins knocked down a three and made three free throws while Mylyjael Poteat and Robbie Beran each converted layups. Tech seemed to run out of options down the stretch when Miami keyed in on Pedulla and struggled to move the ball late when it mattered. Turning it over eight times in the second half didn’t help. For the game, it had 15 miscues.
“Fifteen turnovers is too many,” Collins said. “… It’s about taking care of the ball. The offensive end was there as far as shot making from Sean, Lynn was getting good looks, but at the end of the day, we have to take care of the ball.”
All in all, it went toe-to-toe with a Canes bunch that was ranked in the top 25 earlier in the year. Matthew Cleveland led Miami with 21 points, Nijel Pack added 19 (and eight rebounds and five assists), Norchad Omier chipped in 14 (and five boards) while Wooga Poplar had 11. Head coach Jim Larrañaga said the difference between his group’s win in Blacksburg versus its loss at home to Louisville on Saturday was practice time.
All four of the aforementioned players dealt with injuries ahead of the Cardinals. Pack, Omier and Poplar each had sprained ankles while Cleveland had a bad bruise on his leg. They played like they were heathier against Tech, according to their coach.
On the other side, Tech couldn’t overcome 15 turnovers and playing without Cattoor. The guard depth was limited — Young rotated Pedulla, Brandon Rechsteiner, Collins, Tyler Nickel and Jaydon Young in the backcourt. Outside of Pedulla, the Hokies got just 12 points from that group, all of which came from Collins and Nickel.
They were better on the boards (34 to 24) and limited the Canes to 47 percent from the field, 9-of-25 (36%) from three, but Miami’s veterans had answers when needed. Pack hit a runner in the lane with 1:14 left despite Tech just about containing him, which came after Kyshawn George (six points) banked in a three. The Hokies just needed a little bit more.
“They’re a really good team, shoot the ball well,” Pedulla said, “but I think we were in a couple of times, especially in the first half, where we were up eight or nine and we have a chance to have a double-digit lead and we just either turn it over or take a bad shot and just give that lead up. And those leads are priceless. We need to try to do a better job of playing in front and keeping the lead.”
Beran was the other main contributor for Tech. He scored eight points, courtesy of two 3-pointers, and grabbed five rebounds, though he fouled out with four seconds remaining.
The result on Saturday notwithstanding, the Hokies took steps forward in their second and third ACC home games. They beat a top-25 Clemson team at home on Wednesday, overcoming the adversity of losing Cattoor, and were close to pulling out a win over a team that returned pieces from last year’s Final Four squad.
The result stings — the body language of Pedulla and Collins after the game made that obvious — but there’s still plenty of basketball left. Players are being forced into previously unforeseen roles, which can be a positive if Cattoor can return and pick up where he left off. Pedulla is scoring the ball at an elite level, Collins is defending the other team’s best perimeter player and guys like Young are getting their feet wet in important ACC games.
Virginia Tech will need all of that, with or without Cattoor, when it travels to Charlottesville on Wednesday to face a Virginia squad in a place the program hasn’t won since Feb. 2018.
“I don’t like 15 turnovers, but I told them, ‘I thought we grew up this week,’” Young said. “I thought I saw some things together in a number of areas, a real uptick, and that can happen. It’s a long year, there’s a lot of trials that teams go through.
“I think we played as well tonight as we played on Wednesday. We didn’t get a couple of breaks that you’ve got to get. You’ve got to make those breaks, we didn’t do that tonight.”
Box Score: Miami 75, Virginia Tech 71