RALEIGH, N.C. — Despite 20 turnovers, the Hokies found a way to gut out an 84-78 win at NC State on Saturday, their first road victory of the season.
“We needed that,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said afterwards.
Tech (11-7, 3-4 ACC) shot the ball at a 53 percent clip while it limited the Wolfpack (13-5, 5-2) to 43 percent. In the second half, there was an even larger difference: 63 percent for Tech, 38 percent for NC State.
A one-point game at halftime, 33-32 in the visitors’ favor, the Hokies scored 51 second-half points and did not take their foot off the gas pedal. They made some mistakes, like the turnovers — 12 in the first half, eight in the second — which Young described as “infuriating,” but closed out the game despite the Pack’s late push. Hunter Cattoor and Sean Pedulla were key.
NC State led by one, 50-49, with nine minutes remaining. To that point, Pedulla and Cattoor had scored just six and four, respectively. The Hokies outscored the Wolfpack 35-28 over the final stretch by making all nine of their field goals and 14 of their 16 free throws. Cattoor had 15 while Pedulla had seven, accounting for 63 percent of Tech’s points in that span.
“It’s one of those games where it’s back-and-forth again and we really had to go out there and take it,” said Cattoor, who had a team-high 19 points. “We couldn’t just let the time keep ticking and then go, ‘Hopefully we win.’ We went out there and we went and took that game.”
“I think for the final eight minutes, we just stayed composed, stayed connected,” Tech forward Robbie Beran said. “We were talking to each other knowing they were going to make runs, knowing that we’ve faced adversity on the road. But everything we kind of talked about leading into this game and game prep, staying together and being connected… Just kind of having that mindset and sticking to it.”
The Hokies seemingly did everything right except take care of the ball. A good foul-shooting team, they got to the line often, in part because of NC State’s style and desperation to get back in the game, and made 23-of-28 attempts. They also forced 18 turnovers, a season-high for the Wolfpack, and really shut things down.
Though DJ Horne (16 points) had three 3-pointers in the first eight minutes of the second half, which helped vault NC State into the lead, it was 1-of-6 for the rest of the half from deep. Forward DJ Burns, who is a unique matchup at 6-foot-9, 275, was held to eight points, just his third game below 10 this season. Tech was smart when doubling in the post and the Wolfpack didn’t make enough shots elsewhere. It went almost nine minutes without a 2-point basket in the middle of the second half.
“We were really connected,” Young said. “They are very, very good offensively, I like the things Coach [Kevin] Keatts does, Burns is a truck in the post. I thought keeping him under wraps with the double team was the significant from the opening tap. … I thought we got him back on his heels, he started settling for a couple jump shots.”
Casey Morsell (19 points) and Jayden Taylor (15) were the other two big contributors for the Pack, but a good chunk of the production came from the foul line in the second half. NC State did not attempt a free throw in the first; in the second, there was a more concerted effort to get to the stripe, and it was 20-of-24. Morsell finished 9-of-10 while Taylor was 7-of-8.
That didn’t equate to baskets, however. Virginia Tech got to the free throw line as well, but it was extremely efficient in general. The ball skipped around and had some flavor to it, and Tech used NC State’s inability to switch at the five spot as a positive. As a result, it got some drives at the rim, which Pedulla and Cattoor converted, and had some open looks when the Pack had to rotate, which it knocked down.
“They switch everything, they play high in the gaps, they try to deny a bunch of stuff so it’s hard to get wing catches, it’s hard to move the ball screen away because they’re just going to switch everything,” Cattoor said. “So our gameplan was to bring the five up, have him kind of crack back on that screen with the point guard or the guard, whoever had it, and then just move from that, put them at a disadvantage, drive, kick. If you have an opportunity, go score it, but if not, we’ll play off two, look backside and put them in rotation.
“I think it was a lot better for us and we got better looks in the second half doing that.”
Contributions came from all over, too. Cattoor and Pedulla led the way with 19 and 13, respectively, but Lynn Kidd chipped in 14, Tyler Nickel added 12 and Beran had a season-high 11. It’s the second time this season the Hokies had five double-figure scorers, the first since the opener vs. Coppin State.
Beran’s been very good as of late. Saturday was his fourth consecutive game with eight-plus points, and his last two outings were season-highs. He had 10 at Virginia on Wednesday and followed it up with 11 in Raleigh, doing so on 3-of-4 shooting, drilling all four free throws, grabbing three rebounds and stealing the ball twice. Cattoor said the veteran forward is finding his role and “figuring out where he can insert himself.”
Mylyjael Poteat’s contributions at the five were important too. He finished with eight points, six of which came from the foul line, and two boards. He and Kidd combined for 22 and eight.
“We need them to have that every night, to have that inside presence, that physicality,” Cattoor said of Kidd and Poteat. “It makes us hard to guard when you have Mylyjael and Lynn scoring in the paint, you can’t just let them go. They’re going to get a bucket every time you play them one-on-one, so the more attention they bring down there, and we have great shooters on the outside, now we have an inside-out game and that’s hard to guard.”
MJ Collins also played well. He had seven points on 3-of-9 shooting and grabbed three rebounds. He was used as a secondary point guard at times too, which relieved some stress on Pedulla.
Just like other games this season, Pedulla was hounded 94-feet, which affected him at times. After a six-turnover outing vs. Miami and seven miscues at UVa, he had eight at NC State.
Collins’ presence, combined with Cattoor on occasion, gave Pedulla some room to breathe, and he totaled eight assists, an ACC-best for him this year.
“It’s definitely exhausting and other teams know that,” Pedulla said of the pressure. “That’s why they do it, just to get me a little tired, but [MJ] did a great job of relieving me of some of the pressure and kind of letting myself catch a breather and my defender just back up a little bit. Definitely a good thing to have, especially with [Brandon Rechsteiner] being out. Proud of that.”
Young threw true freshman point guard Brandon Rechsteiner into the game for three minutes in the first half, but he gave the ball away four times. He was not on the bench with the team for the second half of the game, but Young said the Acworth, Ga., native was poked in the eye during Friday’s practice.
Rechsteiner was not expected to be available on Saturday, but he was cleared by the team’s eye doctor that morning. However, he felt “woozy” when he entered at the 15:45 mark in the first half, according to Young, and did not return to the game once he left the floor. The Hokies managed between Pedulla, Collins and Cattoor, though.
The result was one of Virginia Tech’s most impressive wins to date. It wasn’t quite a “complete” victory, partially because of the giveaways — for just the second time in Young’s 22-year coaching career, his team ranks below 200 in Ken Pomeroy’s turnover percentage metric (240) — but it felt similar to the triumph over Boise State in Orlando back in November in that the Hokies battled, hunkered down against a physical team and made the important plays.
Now, instead of 2-5 in league play, they’re 3-4, a large difference. Last year, they were 1-6 through seven ACC games. Two years ago, they were 2-5. The 2017-18 bunch under Buzz Williams was the last to sit in the same spot, and it finished 10-8 and went to the NCAA Tournament.
Tech has a long way to go, but it’s not terribly far off in some of the metrics. It was in the top 65 in the NET and in Ken Pomeroy’s metrics entering Saturday, and some of its wins — like Iowa State and Boise State — are looking pretty good.
The Hokies have to take care of their own business, though, which starts on Tuesday vs. Boston College. The Eagles (11-7, 2-5) lost by six to North Carolina on Saturday. It’s a program that Young is still winless against (0-5) in his tenure. After that, Georgia Tech and No. 7 Duke venture to Cassell Coliseum.
“NC State’s very good,” Young said. “To come in here and win is huge. Let’s take this and continue to build and continue to get better. Today was a step in the right direction, other than the damn turnovers. … Frustrated, but happy to win.”
Box Score: Virginia Tech 84, NC State 78