Sean Singletary ‘s 17 points and 6 assists helped drop Virginia Tech.
The eyes of the ACC world focused on the John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday night, watching to see which Commonwealth heavyweight could move ahead in the league’s title race. The two teams exchanged body blows throughout the first half, but in the end Virginia answered the bell and knocked out Virginia Tech, 69-56.
The Senior Night victory pushed the Cavaliers to the top of the ACC standings when North Carolina lost to Georgia Tech later in the night. The 20-8, 11-4 Hoos travel to Wake Forest on Saturday with a chance to win the regular season title outright.
“It means a lot. We have a chance on Saturday to do something very special. I spent a lot of time before the building was open talking about legacy. I was joking with some people that a lot of people will remember that first game here, well even more people will talk about and remember if we can take care of our business and call ourselves ACC champs,” UVa coach Dave Leitao said. “That’s a special thing especially in a year where there are a lot of good teams. To do that would be meaningful to this program for where we’re trying to go, but most important for the guys in the locker room because they work so hard.”
The Cavaliers once again bombed away from 3-point range, knocking down 10 of 16 shots from beyond the arc. That 62.5% clip was far better than the 22.2% the Hoos made in Blacksburg. Mamadi Diane and Sean Singletary led the barrage as both made 3 of 4 treys. J.R. Reynolds add two, while Adrian Joseph and Jamil Tucker had one each.
On the other end, Virginia Tech simply couldn’t find the range. The visitors made just 2 of 15 long-range offerings.
J.R. Reynolds had 13 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds on Senior Night.
“We didn’t play well, so I couldn’t tell you. If we’d played well, I could have told you the major difference. … I can’t put my finger on it. I’ll tell you tomorrow after I finish breaking down the film, but off the top of my head, they made 3-point shots and we didn’t,” VT coach Seth Greenberg said. “They’re a good basketball team, so they’re going to make shots. They made a bunch of threes.”
Diane’s two 3-pointers came at a critical juncture in the second half as the Hokies attempted to climb back in the game after falling behind by 12 points in the early moments after intermission (UVa led 40-28 at the 18:40 mark). VT had carved the deficit to 45-38 by 13:58 when Diane drained a long shot – on the play, Singletary drove and dropped the ball off to Jason Cain, who spotted Diane on the opposite wing alone.
The 48-38 lead was short-lived as Coleman Collins and Markus Sailes each scored just 16 seconds apart to cut the lead to 48-42 with 12:33 to play. That’s when Diane struck again. This time he caught the ball on the left wing and jab stepped. When the defense didn’t guard the outside shot, he drained the 3-pointer to push the lead to 51-42 at 12:26. The latter trey sparked an 8-0 run by UVa that created a 56-42 edge.
“It had been a while since I had done that, hit back-to-back threes or back-to-back shots, so running down the court, it felt good – I had been waiting for this moment,” Diane said.
“Mamadi [Diane] definitely stepped up, he was very aggressive with his shot selection. He let the game come to him first and foremost,” Singletary said. “He played aggressively and put up some big shots for us.”
After that surge, the lead fell below nine points just twice more. At 56-48, Cain drove toward the middle and used a spin move back to the block for a left-handed lay-up at 8:46 that pushed the lead back to 10 points. That followed a Cav timeout that was called with the offense a little out of synch.
The other significant Hokie run came just before the final media timeout when Jamon Gordon scored in the paint to make it 59-52 with 4:25 to go. At the time, VT had started to use some 3/4-court pressure with Singletary sitting out a stretch with four fouls. The Cavaliers had committed back-to-back turnovers and the Hokies seemed poised for one last run. But Singletary checked back in just moments before Gordon’s score cut it to seven and the Hoos easily broke the pressure, which produced a wide-open 17-foot jumper for Diane. He drained it to push the lead to 61-52 and the Hoos never looked back.
Jason Cain embraces Dave Leitao at the end of UVa’s win.
“We had terrific opportunities. We cut it to five [at 43-38] in the second half, and then we couldn’t get a stop. And we missed some shots,” Greenberg said. “You have to give them credit, they’re a good basketball team. Their guards are terrific. … We knew it was going to be a great environment. I thought it was great for the state of Virginia.”
While the showdown certainly provided a boost for basketball fans across the Commonwealth, the spotlight belonged to the two Virginia seniors. Reynolds battled through a tough 3-of-15 shooting night (thanks in large part to the defense of Dowdell), but still contributed 13 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal. Cain, meanwhile, posted 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 assist while helping keep VT’s Deron Washington in check (9 points, 6 rebounds).
Leitao made sure to give those guys a proper send off in the final moments when he called a timeout with 38 seconds to go. The sole purpose was to substitute for those two seniors. As Reynolds and Cain arrived on the sideline, he gave them both hugs and appeared emotional in the moment – he even waved to the crowd to get louder while pointing at each of their heads.
For two players who started their careers among the turmoil of a floundering program, the final moment was deserved.
“[I’m] just thankful that those two guys have grown. That they’ve developed as people, matured in [and out of] basketball,” Leitao said. “I thought back to that first workout we had two Augusts ago when I first got here and not knowing if either one of them would make it through a two-hour workout. Now the combination of an undefeated conference season at home and how much they’ve been an inspiration to that, a part of that, and grown from that.”
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