Coach Dave Leitao’s team fell to 1-1 in the ACC with the loss.
As has become customary in the Virginia-Virginia Tech basketball rivalry, the two teams waged another close battle on Saturday in Blacksburg before the Hokies squeaked out a 78-75 win. Dating back to 2004-05 when the teams began playing twice a season in ACC play, 8 of 10 games have decided by 7 points or less, including three overtime contests. The average margin of victory in those eight contests has been 4.4 points.
In this conference showdown, the two teams played even for much of the contest, as the 3-point final margin would indicate. However, VT used a key surge to end the first half with a 7-point lead at 40-33, which allowed the hosts to control the game throughout the second half. Every time the Hoos made a run – and they made several strong pushes after intermission – the Hokies answered with enough key baskets to hold on to the lead and eventually the win.
“It was a closely contested ballgame obviously until late in the first half. We got a little bit behind on the things we were trying to do. We were slow on our rotations and it got them 40 points in the first half,” UVa coach Dave Leitao told the Virginia Sports Network. “We didn’t keep the ball out of the middle and didn’t do things we planned for and talked about. They were attacking us and I thought we were attacking them, but there were those stretches in the game that we didn’t stick to the principles on offense or defense and they were able to stretch out the lead and then we were trying to fight back from there.”
Looking at the final numbers, it probably isn’t surprising which Tech players had a big hand in the 12-4 half-ending run. Malcolm Delaney hit a 3-pointer and A.D. Vassallo scored a lay-up in the final minute to end the first half with the final five points. That duo went on to score 53 of VT’s 78 points.
Vassallo, in particular, gave the Hoos fits down the stretch after a relatively quiet start to the second half. He poured in 14 of VT’s final 17 points in the final minutes as the Cavaliers tried to make a furious comeback from a double-digit deficit. One key for Vassallo during that stretch was being able to take advantage of smaller defenders as the Cavs went to a small line-up to extend their defense the length of the court and to put multiple 3-point shooters in the game. The one exception was on Tech’s final field goal of the game. On that play, Mamadi Diane , who had played solid defense and made Vassallo work for shots for large stretches during the game, smothered a Vassallo drive only to watch the VT senior spin, and hit a fade-way jumper to make it 74-70. Vassallo helped put the game away with four free throws after that shot.
Mustafa Farrakhan scored 17 points to set a new career high.
Of course, it was that same substitution to a small line-up that allowed the Hoos to climb back in the contest late. After all, the final six minutes is when Mustapha Farrakhan lit up the nets. Farrakhan, who scored a career-high 17 points, poured in 15 of them after a UVa timeout with 6:08 remaining; Leitao called the timeout with his team trailing 61-49 following a bucket that ended a 4+-minute scoring drought for the Hoos.
After that stop in the action, Farrakhan hit three straight 3s to cut the lead to 67-60. A few moments later, he was fouled while attempting a shot from behind the arc and made all three free throws. Finally with less than a minute to play, Farrakhan buried another trifecta to cut the VT lead to 72-70. The 4 3-pointers are a career-high for the sophomore guard.
Farrakhan’s hot shooting was part of a solid night in terms of shooting percentage for the Hoos. They made 52.7% of their shots, including 41.2% of their 3-pointers. Beyond Farrakhan, other standouts included Sylven Landesberg , who scored 20 points, the 11th time in 13 games that he’s reached double digits. He has eight 20-point games this season, one shy of the freshman record for the Hoos. Landesberg added 8 rebounds and 5 assists, but had 6 turnovers as well. Mike Scott finished with 16 points, a career-best fifth straight double-figure game, and 6 rebounds. Assane Sene tied career highs with 6 points and 4 blocks, while Sammy Zeglinski produced a career-high 8 assists to go with 2 turnovers and Jamil Tucker posted a career-high 3 blocks.
The problem, however, was what happened when the Cavaliers weren’t making shots or positive plays. The team finished with 17 turnovers that often led to easy Tech baskets. Plus, the aforementioned scoring drought came at a pivotal point in the second half and that allowed the Hokies to pull out to a double-digit lead before Farrakhan’s blistering finish helped close the gap.
In other words, inconsistency essentially cost the Cavaliers a shot at a second ACC road win.
“It’s 40 minutes. For 40 minutes, it’s a battle, in this league especially,” Leitao said. “If a team is going to have a run, you’ve got to come back with some solidarity or a run of your own. In order to do that, your mind has to be on your principles, things that you do every day in the gym, execution on offense, team defense … especially in times of adversity. Those two stretches we allowed ourselves not to do that and it cost us. If you’re on the road, or even at home, but on the road especially, you can’t allow yourself that and expect to be victorious.”