Hoos exact revenge on Hokies

After getting blown out by 18 in Blacksburg last season, the Virginia men’s basketball team got some revenge Friday night to begin a big weekend for Cavalier sports by beating the Hokies 80-65. Led by freshman Gary Forbes in both scoring and rebounding for the second straight game, Virginia overcame an early deficit in the first half to beat the undermanned Virginia Tech squad.

“It was a game of toughness and will,” Virginia head coach Pete Gillen said after the game. “It was an important win. We’ve got a great group of guys. I think it was a tremendously important game, because we got waxed by them last year, and we want to build back our team and our credibility.”

The Cavaliers led by only two points three minutes into the second after Zabian Dowdell scored on a layup, but back to back threes by Forbes and Devin Smith began a 14-2 Virginia run that extended the Cavaliers lead to 54-40 with 12:32 left in the game. The Hokies would never get closer than 11 points for the rest of the game as Virginia cruised to a win over their archrival.

While Forbes led the Cavaliers with 16 points and eight rebounds, it was the play of Smith that Gillen said sparked his team in the second half. Before the game it was unclear whether Smith would be able to play, as he has not practiced in 10 days because of a back injury.

After the game Smith said he was suffering from a herniated disk, and that he would have to play through the pain for a little while. He did receive a shot early in the week, and that should help clear some of the pain. It was evident, however, that Virginia is a much better team with Smith on the floor, as he played good defense and helped the Cavaliers on the boards throughout the second half.

“The thing that jumps out at me is Devin Smith coming in and playing well,” Gillen said of his junior forward. “Devin came in and showed some fire. With him we are a different team.”

While it ended well, the game certainly didn’t begin they way the Cavaliers had hoped. The Hokies came out fired up, as they scored the first seven points of the game before Gillen had to call a second time out. Because of injuries, the Hokies only had six scholarship players available, as three Virginia Tech players spent all 20 minutes of the first half on the floor.

The lack of depth wasn’t a problem at the beginning of the game, however, as Tech stayed close to the Cavaliers for the entire first half. If not for the shooting of senior Todd Billet, Virginia might have been unable to fight their way back in the middle of the first half. Billet, who scored 16 points and grabbed five important rebounds, hit three straight threes in a three minutes span to keep the Cavaliers within striking distance while the rest of the offense was struggling. With Elton Brown unable to break free down low in the early going, it was up to Billet and Forbes to lead Virginia’s scoring attack.

The Hokies were led by senior Bryant Matthews , who led all players with 21 points and eight rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end of the court. With fellow senior Carlos Dixon redshirting this season because of a broken foot, much of Virginia Tech’s scoring and rebounding have to come from Matthews, who has shown he is more than up for the challenge.

“They played tough the whole game,” Devin Smith said after the game. “They were being physical and we had to do the same thing in the second half. They were a tough team.”

The Cavaliers found themselves down four with 4:37 remaining in the first half, but they managed to put a run together before the half ended, scoring the last nine points in the first stanza. The Hokies would make their run when the teams came out of halftime, but Devin Smith entered the game and sparked Virginia.

“I knew that I would have to come in and get some rebounds to help the guys out,” Smith said after the game. “I just tried to be aggressive and help the team out in any way that I could.”

Virginia needed Smith’s rebounding prowess in the second half, as they were dominated on the boards in the first 20 minutes. The Hokies, who do not have a starter taller than 6’7”, out-rebounded Virginia 21-17 in the first half. That is a statistic that included nine offensive rebounds and the big reason that Virginia Tech shot the ball eight more times than they did in that period.

A big reason for the rebounding ineptitude was the fact that Virginia’s two centers, Elton Brown and Donte Minter, were unable to grab a rebound in a combined 20 minutes. While they didn’t exactly dominate the boards in the second half, they fared much better, combining to score 23 points and four rebounds.

“Elton has to be more active,” Gillen said after the game. “I thought Elton had a terrific second half.”

The win was the beginning of a big weekend for the Cavaliers against Virginia Tech. The football team will take on the Hokies tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., as they try to avenge four straight losses to Virginia Tech. The men’s basketball team also has one more contest this weekend, as they play High point Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.