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Hokie Hardwood: UVA

By Grant Mitchell | January 30
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Photo from Twitter: @HokiesMBB

The #20 Virginia Tech Hokies (13-3, 7-2) defeated the #8 Virginia Cavaliers (11-3, 7-1) in Blacksburg, Virginia Saturday evening, 65-51, ending their archrivals unbeaten streak of conference play.

In what will forever be remembered as the "Keve Aluma game", the Hokies used a stupendous second half to defeat the visiting Cavaliers, outscoring them 44-22 to seal the victory after a shaky start. The final score cemented VT’s best start to league play in the program's history.

Keve Aluma added another astounding performance against a top 25 opponent to his list thus far, leading the Hokies with a career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds.

The Hokies' sharpshooters came alive in the second half, nailing seven of ten three-point attempts while the team defense closed off all UVA opportunities, forcing them into unwanted and contested shots throughout the entirety of the closing period.

For the second game in a row, Virginia Tech held their opponent to just 51 points, a season low.

This win elevated the Hokies to a perfect 4-0 against ranked teams this season and now makes them the most lethal team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Plot

If the first half gave any indication towards the final outcome, it was not in the scoreboard. UVA maintained a steady lead for a majority of the opening period and was bailed out by three end-of-shot-clock desperation heaves that settled into the hoop, giving the Cavaliers a flukey nine points.

Coach Tony Bennett and the UVA defense employed a fairly obvious yet effective game plan: let Keve Aluma roam where he wanted to, play tight on perimeter shooters and rotate off of Wabissa Bede when needed.

Unfortunately for the visitors, Aluma was ready for a career night.

After averaging seven points in three games prior, the big man dominated from the onset. A quick three from a pick and pop filled the junior forward with confidence that had been missing previously and turned him into a menace offensively.

Aluma played downhill, attacking Jay Huff and the other Cavaliers in the post, using his quick feet and agility to maneuver past them.

While Aluma dominated the entire first half by scoring 16 points, his teammates were unable to follow him. A 2-13 shooting performance contributed just five extra points to Aluma’s total while the Kihei Clark-led Cavaliers opened up a 29-21 lead at the intermission.

VT Head Coach Mike Young did something that he does not normally do and replaced a struggling Nahiem Alleyne in the starting lineup with Hunter Cattoor, the ever-persistent defender and clutch shooter off the bench.

The change worked.

A couple of defensive breakdowns by David N’Guessan and Keve Aluma early in the second half allowed UVA to tack on six easy points to their total, only to then be held under lock and key by the Hokie defenders over the final 15 minutes.

After a couple of threes from Jalen Cone knocked the lid off of the basket, the Tech offense flourished.

Wabissa Bede came into his own and commanded the half court with a tremendous presence, positioning his teammates and initiating actions that led to the Hokies burying 70% of their attempts from beyond the arc in the second half.

Cattoor, Bede and Alleyne joined Cone in the three-point barrage, forcing the Cavalier defenders to honor their perimeter presence. This helped set up Keve Aluma to continue his mercenary work inside until the forward finally seized all of the game’s momentum, converting an and-one, swatting a UVA layup and scoring a hook shot on back-to-back-to-back possessions.

UVA appeared baffled by the Hokies’ intensity while coach Young’s unit continued to soar on offense, pouring into a 19-0 run en route to winning the second half by a 22-point margin. The Cavaliers were held to just one made field goal over the final 8:29.

The Players

Enough cannot be said about the play of Keve Aluma. The star transfer marked a new career-high in points, exploding for 29, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing four assists. The big man is now averaging 20.5 points and 7.3 rebounds against ranked opposition this season, elevating himself at the direst of situations.

Hunter Cattoor played a season-high 31 minutes in the weekend showdown, every one of which was necessary. The sophomore guard contributed 15 points (5-7 FG, 3-5 3PT) and two blocks, ran the offense with supreme efficiency and harassed Tony Bennett’s usual stars with an unmatched intensity.

Cattoor was locked in all night long, effortlessly draining deep shots as the UVA defense failed to contain his unbelievable ability from beyond the arc.

Wabissa Bede had one of his most influential games in recent memory: the fifth-year captain steadied the offense through tough moments and enabled them during the positive ones, providing five assists and a number of hockey assists to his teammates.

On top of that, Bede’s three with 8:58 to go cut the Cavalier lead to just one point, signifying the end of their run of dominance. A Bede steal shortly thereafter led to the Hokies seizing a lead that would not be relinquished for the remainder of the contest.

The Pretenses

The Virginia Tech Hokies responded to Monday’s unfortunate news of guard Tyrece Radford’s suspension in a positive fashion by defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in their home building Wednesday, 62-51.

The Hokies played with a heightened sense of team spirit, understanding that their connectedness will be key in winning league matches.

The usual one-two punch in Keve Aluma and Jalen Cone had struggled recently, though the Hokies’ vicious defense helped guide them to victory.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Cavaliers entered Saturday’s tip-off with a perfect 7-0 record against ACC opponents and were winners of seven straight, most notably destroying #12 Clemson 85-50 away from home.

The Cavaliers are an extremely dangerous three-point shooting team with three players averaging over 43% and the team maintaining a 39.6% standard.

The Postgame

“This team of mine, they’ll fight you tooth and nail, night in and night out… that performance defensively was exceptional, but it was not a surprise.”

— Mike Young, Head Coach

The Hokies’ fan-favorite coach applauded his team’s defensive performance while also warning that they are capable of doing it on a nightly basis.

“[On coach Young’s message at halftime] Just keep shooting, stay confident. Knock those shots down.”

— Keve Aluma, Forward

The player of the game shared his coach’s simple message with reporters, showing just how confident the Hokies’ fearless leader is in his squad.

“[On his goal for the season] A national championship. We all thought it was realistic at the start of the season… we’re just going to keep working towards it.”

— Hunter Cattoor, Guard

The Orlando, Florida native revealed that he and his teammates are eyeing one thing and one thing only this season: a national title.

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports claimed that Mike Young is destined for ACC Coach of the Year, a tremendous distinction in less than ideal circumstances and a congested conference.

The legendary analyst and sportscaster Dick Vitale awarded Keve Aluma with player of the night status, reflecting the impact that the Hokies are having on a national scale.

The Performance

Saturday’s victory may not have been the highest of coach Young’s tenure, but it was the most important.

Not only did the Hokies thump UVA at home, they did it while the Cavaliers were in a hot run of form by beating them at their own game.

An immense defensive performance and a second half comeback propelled the Hokies to their fourth win over a ranked opponent this season and tied a program record in the process.

VT has now announced themselves as one of the stingiest defensive units in the nation. If they can couple this with the perimeter shooting that was on display in the second half, the Hokies are seriously in business.

Though UVA remains atop the conference ladder, the Hokies are now just a half-game out of the number one spot and are likely to be the top-ranked team nationally when next week’s rankings are released.

Virginia Tech is ready for anybody.

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Photo from Twitter: @HokiesMBB

Polling the People

Instagram: "As a prospective sports broadcasting sutdent... LET'S GO HOKIES!!! Keve is a beast" -@giovanniheater

Instagram: "Mike Young is a 🐐"-@zach_wendel17