Virginia Tech swiped a page from Virginia’s defensive playbook and pulled off a 61-60 upset in overtime Saturday night at the John Paul Jones Arena. The loss saw a 15-game winning streak and unbeaten ACC record fall by the wayside for the No. 2 Hoos.
On a day where ESPN College Gameday returned to Charlottesville and a hyped crowd filled the building with noise, the Cavaliers couldn’t crack open Tech’s defense and left frustrated with the result.
“We almost stole that game, but that is what it would have been, stealing that game,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “They outplayed us. I told our guys I liked some of the shots and the plays they made and stretches and stops to put it into overtime, and even when we had the lead one time we fell down and we missed some free throws and a couple miscues. You cannot do that if you are going to steal one. I think there were too many break downs for us and miscues.”
Many of the night’s issues stemmed from the offensive end where the Hoos faced a version of themselves. The Hokies played a sagging man-to-man scheme for most of the night similar to Virginia’s vaunted Pack-Line defense. The visitors clogged the lane, jumped into gaps, and forced UVA into jumpers, some contested and some not, for most of the night.
The Cavaliers settled into stagnant possessions at times and did not get many paint touches, particularly in the first half. Some adjustments early in the second half created post touches and more paint action, but even that led to kickout 3-pointers as the defense dug down. Eventually, the second half settled into repeated jumpers as well.
In the end, Virginia fired up 38 3-point attempts. That’s the most in a game for the Hoos since a game at Clemson on Jan. 15, 2000. The hosts made 11 of 38 attempts, a 28.9% clip that included 1-of-5 shooting in overtime. They took just 23 shots inside the arc for the night and landed at 34.4% shooting overall. The 62.3% 3-point volume was 27% higher than the season-long rate of 35.2%
“First, Virginia Tech really jammed the lane and did a good job,” Bennett said. “They have been doing that in their last couple games. We got some good looks and then I thought our touches were alright. We shot a couple, maybe more than a couple, bad ones and that is a very high number. But it is what it is.”
UVA’s starting guards each took at least 10 3-pointers on the night. Devon Hall made five of 10 attempts to score a team-high 16 points. He also had six rebounds and three assists. Kyle Guy fired up 14 triples, but made just three as he finished with 13 points, six rebounds, and two assists. He played all 45 minutes in the game. Ty Jerome made one of 10 3-point attempts for 11 points. He added eight rebounds, four assists, and three steals in 43 minutes.
The only player other than Hall to hit a high percentage on the distant shots was De’Andre Hunter, who made both of his 3-point attempts. He made five of eight shots overall to finish with 14 points, five rebounds, and one assist in 26 minutes.
“We kind of go against the Pack-Line every day, against each other, so I think they were helping even more in the paint and it was hard to make the skip pass,” Guy said. “Guys like Alexander and Bibbs are really long and athletic so we could not just skip pass it. I know, myself, I took a couple of bad shots and that we probably could have moved the ball a little bit better.”
Virginia Tech fired away from beyond the arc too. The Hokies took 29 3-pointers among 51 total shots (56.9% 3-point volume) in the game. They made 11 for a 37.9% shooting night from downtown. VT posted 43.1% shooting overall.
While UVA pushed out to an early 13-5 lead, Tech came out of a timeout cooking. The Hokies made six straight shots, including five 3-pointers, to rip off a 17-0 run after Virginia took that early lead. The surge eventually reached 22-2 as the visitors built a 27-15 lead. That represented the Hoos’ largest deficit of the season. Tech ended up shooting 57.1% in the first half to lead 33-26 at intermission.
Justin Robinson played a big role in that half with 11 points and he finished with 20 on the night. Nickeil Alexander-Walker came through with a trio of 3-pointers in the first half as well to help the Hokies build the lead.
“I do not know if I can point any one specific thing out, but they were really attacking downhill and Justin Robinson was phenomenal in the pick-and-roll,” Guy said. “We had a couple of lapses on defense and they were hitting tough shots.”
The Cavaliers cleaned up much of the defense in the second half when they allowed just 16 points, but the offense couldn’t get them over the comeback hump. In fact, UVA needed four points in the final 1:16 to just force overtime at 49-49. Robinson missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw in that stretch and Jerome drove to the basket twice, once for a layup and once for a tying pull-up jumper with 10 seconds to go. After a Hokie turnover, he had a chance to win the game with a long 3-pointer but it bounced off the rim.
The Hokies flipped that script on the Hoos in overtime, though. Virginia moved out to a five-point lead with 38 seconds to go on a Hall 3-pointer and two Isaiah Wilkins’ free throws. Wilkins had two points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots, and two steals. A quick bucket for Kerry Blackshear Jr. on an assist from Robinson cut the lead to 59-56 before Hall made one of two free throws for UVA’s final point.
Alexander-Walker nailed a 3-pointer with 20 seconds to go and the Hokies sent Hall back to the line. Like Robinson in regulation, he missed the front end of the one-and-one opportunity and Robinson quickly pushed the ball into the paint the other way where he missed a layup. That’s when Blackshear grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to give his team the win. Jerome’s final heave missed off the backboard.
“I was confident. Super confident. I shoot thousands of free throws,” Hall said. “I will go right back to the line like I did last time. The second time I went up to the line [at the end] I thought the first one was going to go in. It felt so good coming out of my hands. I have all the confidence in the world and in myself going into that situation.”
The loss ended Virginia’s perfect start in ACC play as it fell to 23-2 overall and 12-1 in league play. The Cavaliers now head back on the road for a Tuesday night game at Miami. That one is scheduled for 9 p.m. on ESPN. Where the Hoos will be ranked for that one remains to be seen as their hopes of taking over the No. 1 spot after Villanova’s loss earlier this week may have been dashed with Saturday’s setback.
Bennett was concerned with his team’s quality of play not the rankings.
“First of all, this was a phenomenal atmosphere. Our crowd of people who came out was special. That was as loud as I have heard and I appreciate that. How do we respond?” Bennett said. “We have to go and play Miami, who I think is excellent and one of the most talented teams in our league in their building. That is part of this league. I do not get too carried away with where we are. I always say thus far, and now we have to prove it again. They have done an unbelievable job where they are, and we did not do the job tonight. Now we are going to get a chance to do it again and we are going to have to fight like crazy every game. Everybody is capable of beating everybody in this league and that is reality. If you are little off it is not enough.”