CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia Tech got behind the 8-ball early and couldn’t rally at Virginia in a 65-57 loss on Wednesday night. It’s the program’s 10th loss in its last 11 trips to John Paul Jones Arena.
The Hokies (10-7, 2-4 ACC) scored just 18 points in the first half, the fewest in a game since 17 at Notre Dame in March 2020, and couldn’t climb out of the hole they dug. They shot 39 percent from the floor and turned it over 15 times while the Cavaliers (12-5, 3-3) were better with a 46 percent clip and kept Tech at arm’s length the rest of the way.
“We knew coming into the game, you can’t do that here. You can’t come into this arena, this environment and turn the ball over 10 times in the first half and expect to be playing good basketball,” Tech guard Hunter Cattoor said afterwards. “… Just hurried shots, dumb turnovers by us. You do it against a team like Virginia, it’s going to hurt you later on.
“… It shows in our record — if you turn the ball over, it’s going to be hard to win games, and Mike Young’s teams usually haven’t been like that.”
Tech led early, but a 3-pointer from UVa forward Jacob Groves at the 11:35 mark of the first half officially turned the tide. The Cavaliers took over from there, and though Tech pulled within six points on six different occasions in the second half, UVa had an answer each time.
The Cavaliers dominated inside to the tune of 36 points in the paint (55%). Merrimack transfer Jordan Minor had a season-high 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting and added six free throws and five rebounds. He kept Tech center Lynn Kidd (three points, 1-of-3) at bay.
“They were able to throw that thing underneath on at least four occasions to Minor,” Tech head coach Mike Young said, “who caught it and scored the ball. And then he’s not a great foul shooter, made 6-of-8 foul shots, so he had a nice game.”
The Hokies couldn’t generate anything down low and had to fall back on their 3-point shooting. They attempted 30 shots from behind the arc, making 11. They were 4-of-12 in the first half, 7-of-18 in the second.
But they struggled in the first 20 minutes because they couldn’t take care of the ball. They had 10 first-half turnovers and 15 for the game. Point guard Sean Pedulla had seven, as many as UVa did as a team. A number of them were unforced; Pedulla slipped or just lost control of it.
“I’m just doing a terrible job of taking care of the ball,” Pedulla said, “and a lot of it isn’t even stuff the defense is doing, it’s just me losing it, me tripping over my own foot, so those are frustrating.
“… I think their defense forced us to take bad shots more than turnovers. A lot of turnovers were just me losing it or tripping, it’s just unacceptable to do. I thought they did a good job forcing us to take tough shots that they want us to take, but I wouldn’t say their defense forced our turnovers for most of the night.”
That gave an elite Virginia defense some momentum, which it used to its advantage. Tech struggled mightily. Between the 15-minute mark in the first half and intermission, it made just three baskets. It went stretches of 4:52, 5:50 and 4:27 without scoring. It turned the ball over seven different times in that span too.
The Hokies were better in the second half and shot 47 percent, but the Cavaliers were improved too. They made 63 percent of their shots and got important stops when needed.
Reece Beekman paced UVa with 16 points and assisted four baskets. Isaac McKneely and Blake Buchanan each scored eight, Jacob Groves and Ryan Dunn had six apiece (and Dunn had seven boards) while Dante Harris, in his first game back after missing 10 games due to injury, had five points, five assists and no turnovers.
Pedulla led Tech with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists to accompany his seven giveaways. Hunter Cattoor returned from a concussion — he was cleared on Monday and practiced fully on Tuesday — and had 12 points, four boards and three dimes. Robbie Beran chipped 10 points and six rebounds while Tyler Nickel recorded eight points and four rebounds.
There were too many mistakes on Tech’s end, though, and they snowballed. It seemed as if UVa handed Tech opportunities at times and it didn’t take advantage of them. When the Hokies had chances to seize the game, they came up empty handed.
“Whenever we were down six and had the ball, we come down and either just take a quick one or turn it over,” Pedulla said. “We have to capitalize, especially on the road. … And [against] a team where we have fewer possessions than normal.”
As Young put it, Tech has no choice but to figure it out. It’s 0-4 away from home this season and has 71 turnovers between those outings, an average of 17.8 per game. That’s where it starts. To have the opportunity to play in March, you must win on the road, and to do so, your defense must travel and you must take care of the ball.
Virginia Tech hasn’t done that so far this year, but it gets a chance to right the ship on Saturday at NC State (Noon ET, CW), another Quadrant 1 opportunity. When it last played in PNC Arena in Jan. 2022, it gave the ball away 17 times and barely escaped with a win. That won’t cut it this time around.
“It’s not easy to win out here, but you’ve got to do it,” Young said of winning on the road. “There’s got to be a connection throughout the group, you’ve got to get contributions throughout the unit, you cannot turn the ball over on the road or at home. And you’ve got to step to the plate and make a shot when that thing swings around and you’ve got a good crack at it, and we didn’t do that at times tonight. We’ll need to on Saturday against the Wolfpack.”
Box Score: Virginia 65, Virginia Tech 57