For any fans clinging to the last shred of hope that Virginia could turn around its basketball fortunes this season, Thursday night’s game at Virginia Tech should have convinced them to let go. The Cavaliers only made their predicament more hopeless with a 79-73 loss at packed and raucous Cassell Coliseum.
Another dreadful defensive effort, another inconsistent offensive outing and another lackluster second-half start doomed UVa to yet another ACC defeat, this time at the hands of the rival Hokies. The schools’ first conference meeting in 68 years produced one more low point in a season full of them for the Cavs, who are now 1-6 in league play going into Saturday’s home game against No. 3 North Carolina.
As usual, Virginia hung close for a half before Virginia Tech (11-6, 4-2 ACC) opened the second half with a 23-10 run to take a 16-point lead. The ‘Hoos pulled within two on a putback by Elton Brown with 11 seconds left, but Hokies guard Jamon Gordon released downcourt and threw down a breakaway dunk to ice the victory.
“I’m proud of our kids for fighting back, but you can’t go down 16 points on the road against a good team in a tough atmosphere like this,” said UVa coach Pete Gillen. “Unfortunately, some of our guys didn’t play well in the first half who we needed to play well.”
Senior forward Devin Smith led the Cavaliers with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Elton Brown had 19 points and 15 rebounds, helping UVa earn a 38-25 advantage on the boards. But Brown also committed five of Virginia’s 22 turnovers, leading to 18 points for Virginia Tech. Guards Sean Singletary , J.R. Reynolds and T.J. Bannister missed 14 of 19 shots, while starting forward Jason Cain had four turnovers and no points or rebounds in six minutes.
“He was terrific,” Gillen said of Smith, who made four 3-pointers. “He didn’t practice the last three days. He’s Superman, but I wish we could spread it around a little bit.”
All five Hokie starters scored in double figures, led by sophomore center Coleman Collins with 20 points. Collins scored nine points, including two dunks, early in the second half as Virginia Tech pulled away. Carlos Dixon and Gordon each made four steals for the Hokies, who lead the ACC in turnover margin and were at plus-11 in that category Thursday.
Tech led 62-46 before the Cavaliers went on an 8-0 run and kept chipping away. Smith’s made a 3-pointer and got fouled for a rare four-point play with 3:25 left, cutting the deficit to 72-69. Down three, UVa had the ball twice with a chance to tie or get within one, but Reynolds turned the ball over while trying to zip a pass to Smith and Brown missed a sweeping left-handed shot in the lane.
After a free throw by Tech’s Carlos Dixon made it 75-71 with 20 seconds left, Bannister threw up a wild shot and Brown stuck in the rebound. But Gillen, as usual, had used all of his timeouts, so the Cavaliers couldn’t set up their defense. Dixon took the inbounds pass and threw long to Gordon, who was all alone for the game-clinching dunk.
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