Hokie Hardwood: Miami
The #16 Virginia Tech Hokies (14-4, 8-3) defeated the Miami Hurricanes (7-11, 3-10) in overtime in Coral Gables, Florida Saturday afternoon, 80-76.
In what turned out to be the most thrilling game of the Atlantic Coast Conference season thus far, an exchange of threes between Miami’s Isaiah Wong and Virginia Tech’s Hunter Cattoor over the final 2.1 seconds saw the game extended to an extra five minutes.
The Hokies ultimately prevailed in the battle of the added time, 6-4, securing a gritty victory on the road.
Proficient ball movement (season-high 25 assists) and complete team involvement were key to the maroon and orange’s narrow escape.
Justyn Mutts coupled an impressive performance against Pittsburgh with a season-high in points and career-high in assists, helping to lead the Hokies to their league-topping eighth victory.
In typical Virginia Tech fashion, the noon contest had an ugly beginning.
Turnovers and missed shots combined with tight defense from both teams led to a very low-scoring start.
Keve Aluma picked up where he had left off, scoring the Hokies’ first seven points of the weekend affair and looking all the more like a viable ACC Player of the Year candidate.
Jalen Cone retained his spot in the starting five but came off early with an injured ankle: he did not return to the action.
Freshman Joe Bamisile filled in for never-hesitant Cone and played extremely well, drawing praise from his coaches and teammates after the game.
These minutes were Bamisile’s first sustained involvement outside of garbage time and he did not disappoint. The freshman was electric off the dribble and used his athleticism to create paths to the basket, none more impressive than a thunderous and-one dunk at the start of the second half.
While the Hokies found their momentum, so too did the Hurricanes. Although Miami’s leading scorer in Isaiah Wong was held to just three first half points, co-stars Elijah Olaniyi and Kameron McGusty provided efficient offense for their team.
With just over eight minutes remaining, a 9-0 run by Tech created the ballgame’s first double-digit lead with the Blacksburg boys finding themselves in front, 59-48.
An immediate response from the ‘Canes, triggered by the switch to a zone defense, allowed the home team to mount their own 10-0 run and bring the contest right back to where it had been.
The action continued to go back-and-forth until the final seconds when Miami’s Isaiah Wong nailed a drifting three from the left side, putting the Hurricanes up 74-71 with 2.1 seconds left.
Virginia Tech’s ensuing heave to half court was knocked out of bounds with a little over a second left and allowed Mike Young to diagram one play to tie the game.
“I knew they wanted to switch everything… 1.7 seconds is not much but it is enough” recalled the Hokies’ coach.
Wabissa Bede inbounded the ball from half court to a curling Hunter Cattoor in the close corner who, after taking one steadying dribble, ripped the net to spoil the Hurricanes’ comeback.
Overtime was another low scoring affair, similar to the first half in many aspects, with Nahiem Alleyne eventually putting the road warrior Hokies up two points with 25 seconds left.
Hunter Cattoor came up huge again in the next possession, stopping a Miami drive by drawing a charge with 6.6 seconds left and shortly thereafter nailing two free throws, ending the game once and for all.
Justyn Mutts played his best game of the season Saturday, scoring a season-high 22 points (9-14 FG), dishing a career-high seven assists and grabbing nine rebounds.
The junior transfer appears to be growing in confidence with every minute on the court, using impressive decision making and natural skill to craft highways to the hoop from different angles.
Hunter Cattoor was the hero of the game, forcing overtime with a buzzer-beater three and drawing the charge that prevented Miami’s chances of an overtime victory.
Cattoor scored 14 points (4-8 3PT) and swatted two shots in the last-second victory and was as impressive as ever, reaffirming coach Young’s trust in his abilities.
Keve Aluma put forth another quality performance, totaling 16 points, six rebounds and a career-high-tying five assists.
Aluma is now officially the man in Blacksburg and lets the offense run through him, providing a new wrinkle in the sixteenth-ranked team’s attack in the post.
The Hokies entered Saturday’s action with a mixed bag of results in recent weeks, finishing 2-2 against their last four opponents. One of those victories, however, was a decisive defeat of the #8 Virginia Cavaliers.
Jalen Cone has been inserted into the opening lineup in the past four games but has struggled to produce after a sizzling-hot start to his season. The sophomore guard has averaged just 5.3 points on 23.3% shooting since being listed as a starter, although he did seem to rebuild a bit of confidence against Pittsburgh by knocking down three triples.
Keve Aluma, on the other hand, has been on tear as of late: the junior forward recorded 29-point 10 rebound and 30-point 10 rebound performances in consecutive games while racking up nine total assists. Aluma is now averaging 15.7 points this season and seems to have found the hot hand from outside, sinking six of his last 10 attempts.
On the other side, Miami managed to end their poor run of results five days ago by defeating the Duke Blue Devils 77-75, ending a four-game skid.
The Hurricanes’ best player in Chris Lykes continues to be sidelined by an ankle injury, though sophomore guard Isaiah Wong has stepped up in his absence.
Wong has posted standards of 17.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season and was one outside shot away from pulling off a 17-point comeback against the Hokies when they first met on December 29th.
“25 [assists] and 10 [turnovers] will help you win a lot of games… we’re going to have to play better basketball as we head down the stretch.”
The Hokies’ main man declared that he was proud of how his team shared the ball, but they must continue to improve in the coming weeks.
“My mindset at that point was let’s go win the game. It’s 0-0.”
After Hunter Cattoor’s three-point shot sent the game to overtime, the game’s leading scorer shared that he was focused on keeping a level head and winning the game.
“I have gotten a lot better over the past month… getting advice from guys on the bench was super helpful while I was playing.”
The dynamic freshman shared that being able to rely on experienced players to coach him through the game helped his impressive display.
Another nail biter against the resilient Hurricanes but another victory nonetheless, courtesy of efficient offensive play and clutch moments.
Exactly one month after a missed shot at the buzzer against Louisville, Hunter Cattoor made amends with history and buried the bucket that propelled his team to an overtime victory.
Down two starters in Tyrece Radford and Jalen Cone, the Mike Young-led Hokies withstood a run from a feisty Hurricane unit and closed out the ballgame on the road.
While the fans could have gone without witnessing the excruciating second half collapse, VT showed their ability to win contested games, an important factor in postseason success.
With the potential return of Tyrece Radford looming and players like Mutts and Bamisile elevating themselves to a higher level, the Hokies are in just enough shape to make a run.