Hokies Run Past Cavaliers

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J.R. Reynolds continued his ACC scoring show with 21 points.

For seven straight games, Virginia had relied on stingy defense, timely shooting, and rebounding to ascend to the top of the ACC standings. The Cavaliers had a poor showing in all three of those categories on Saturday in Blacksburg and they got blitzed by rival Virginia Tech, 84-57. It was the Cavaliers’ largest losing margin on the season.

The nightmare started almost immediately in Blacksburg. Other than a J.R. Reynolds’ bank shot in the early going, it was all Hokies as Jamon Gordon started things with back-to-back buckets that gave VT a 5-2 lead. That quickly ballooned to 21-8 as everyone but Reynolds struggled on offense – he had all eight UVa points. He finished with 21 points.

The slow start – other than a brief run to start the second half – never improved as Virginia Tech rolled to a 38-22 halftime lead and never looked back. That 16-point deficit was the Cavs’ biggest of the season; they trailed by 13 to both Arizona and Appalachian State and by 12 to Utah.

“It’s a bad combination when one team plays with a ton of energy and the other doesn’t play with any energy,” UVa coach Dave Leitao told the Virginia Sports Network after the game. “That’s a bad combination.”

The Hokies played to all their strengths: defending the paint, transition offense, scoring off the bounce, and creating turnovers off of steals. Virginia, meanwhile, proved unsuccessful with its strengths: 4-of-18 3-point shooting, 21-of-64 shooting overall, and awful defense, particularly in transition. Tech shot a blistering 57.7% percent in the win – fastbreaks, dunks, and lay-ups can help that number soar rapidly. Only Clemson (and that was barely at 45.3 percent) had surpassed 45 percent during the Cavaliers’ seven-game winning streak.

Leading the way for VT were Gordon and Deron Washington – the latter of the two was everywhere throughout, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, running the floor, and creating his own personal highlight film. That helped spark the hosts to a lead as big as 21 before intermission and 27 by the end.

Tech’s “X Factor” in Washington showed up in a big way with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Gordon had 15 points to go with 6 assists and 5 steals. A.D. Vassallo also poured in 22 points and 8 rebounds, while Coleman Collins added 6 points, 6 blocks, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Will Harris and fellow freshman Solomon Tat combined to scored 15 points.

“It goes right back to what you just said [about energy],” Leitao said. “When a team is energized and the other is not, you’re going to be quick to the ball, you’re going to be fastbreaking like they did, you’re going to be rebounding, and everything else.”

The Cavaliers’ supporting cast, meanwhile, struggled. Jason Cain, who paces the Cavs on the glass, had just 2 boards. Mamadi Diane and Adrian Joseph , the team’s most reliable wing scorers other than Reynolds and Sean Singletary , combined for 2 points on 1-of-11 shooting. Tunji Soroye , who had a big game at Maryland, contributed 4 rebounds.

Freshmen Will Harris and Solomon Tat did provide a bit of a spark with some solid defense and scoring (Tat had 8 and Harris had 7), but both struggled to finish some shots in the paint. They combined to shoot 5 of 15.

Even Singletary, who is often Leitao’s ace up the sleeve, had big problems. He shot 5 of 11 and finished with 13 points. The star guard also had 5 turnovers with just 2 assists.

Maybe it’s just better to chalk it up to a “bad day” and forget about it, right? Not according to Leitao, who does not like to go through excuse lists after games. Rather, he is always a back to work, back to practice type of coach.

“Absolutely not,” Leitao said. “You’ve got to get back to square one and get back to what you think makes you good.”

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