Returns to homepage

Hokie Hardwood: Villanova

By Grant Mitchell | November 28
Aluma block villanova
Photo: Jessica Hill

The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the #3 Villanova Wildcats 81-73 in Uncasville, Connecticut Saturday evening.

This triumph marked the fourth Hokie victory in their past six matchups against top-three seeds while Villanova dropped their first contest of the season, sinking to 2-1.

The Hokies showed their resiliency after falling behind by 12 points in the second half, courtesy of an 11-0 run by the Wildcats, only to respond with an 11-2 run of their own. This victory is the most impressive of Head Coach Mike Young’s tenure and cemented his place as a high-level tactician in NCAA basketball, something the Virginia Tech fanbase managed to keep faith in despite a 16-16 first season.

The Plot

The casual fan would not have recognized which team came in as the #3 seed without the assistance of the scoreboard. While Nova guard Collin Gillespie demonstrated his immense talent, scoring or assisting on 24 of Villanova’s 29 first half points, Virginia Tech were the true aggressors in the contest. The maroon and orange, a largely undersized, perimeter-centric squad, used an NBA-style approach to infiltrate the Wildcat defense. The Hokies would clear the lane and search for outside shots while placing a concerted effort on exploiting favorable defensive switches, using the speed of their smaller guards to blow by defending Cats into a vacated painted area. Villanova, on the other hand, seemed to be reliant upon individual moments of artistry and relentless three-point bombing to keep them afloat.

After being out-rebounded by Radford in the season opener, coach Young inserted Justyn Mutts into Naheim Alleyne’s previous slot in the starting lineup in an attempt to negate the mismatch in size. While the Hokies struggled to slow down Gillespie, they put on a defensive clinic against the rest of Jay Wright’s Wildcats, entering the half tied 29-29 with a +4 advantage in the rebounding battle.

The second half was where the action kicked off: Naheim Alleyne filled in for a quiet Hunter Cattoor to start the second half, a move that would later pay dividends. Despite shooting worse from the field, Villanova had been able to key in on threes in the first half, which had ultimately kept them in the game. The Hokies flipped this script on its head in the second half, outshooting the Wildcats from deep and displaying their marksmanship by going 6-9 from three.

For all of the wit and graft that went into this game, the final 58 seconds of regulation were a reflection of the magic of college basketball. Virginia Tech lost starting point guard Wabissa Bede after he committed his fifth foul, Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels both missed one of ones for Villanova, and Keve Aluma hit an and-one with less than two seconds left that gave Virginia Tech their first lead since 17:34 in the second half. Even still, this did not encapsulate the drama.

After Aluma’s made free-throw and with 1.2 seconds left, Villanova’s Jay Wright put his genius as a coach on full display. While the Nova man in charge of inbounding the ball shuffled across the baseline, Justin Moore came over to set a pick on the defending Justyn Mutts. Though Moore was not freeing up anyone with his screen, the ensuing contact resulted in a foul being called. Originally charged to Moore, a questionable huddle of the referees and yelling from the Villanova coaching staff influenced the decision be changed, and a defensive foul was given to Justyn Mutts. The Villanova guard then calmly walked to the other side, toed the line and nailed both foul shots.

Overtime was a testament to the resolve of the Hokies: whereas many teams would have conceded the momentum and given up, they expanded their defensive hustle while the offense was sparked by a quick three from the man of the hour: Justyn Mutts. Tech quickly took a five-point lead in the added period and never looked back, locking Villanova down to just three made field goals and outscoring them 17-9 in overtime.

Bede villanova
Photo: David Butler II

The Players

Keve Aluma posted another career high in points, improving upon his 19 against Radford, notching 23 big ones to go with eight rebounds and two blocks. The 6’2 rebounding machine that is Tyrece Radford secured 13 boards along with eight points and five assists, proving his necessity to the Tech lineup. Naheim Alleyne went 4-6 from three, including three second-half triples that contributed to the VT comeback, and posted 20 total points.

Both of Tech’s point guards deserve special recognition for the second game in a row. Wabissa Bede, though he did foul out, hit a ginormous three with 1:45 left in the second half to knock the Villanova lead that had once been 12 down to one point. His leadership and clutch shot-making kept the belief of a Hokie comeback alive.

Cartier Diarra made the play of the game by finding Aluma through a double-team for the go-ahead basket with just 1.2 seconds left. Despite a modest box score, the fifth-year guard led the Hokies after Bede’s disqualification from the contest and his maturity on both ends of the court kept the Hokies on course during times when most players would panic.

The Pretenses

The Hokies went into Saturday night’s battle against the Wildcats only three days removed from their first game of the season, a 77-62 victory over the Radford Highlanders. Tech was supposed to face-off against the Temple Owls, but a positive COVID test and NCAA regulations determined that the university would be ineligible for the matchup. It had been reported that Villanova was interested in finding another game over the weekend, and at 1:45 a.m. on Friday morning a matchup between the Hokies and the Wildcats materialized. Virginia Tech went in as no stranger to neutral site matchups against #3 seeds, having knocked off Michigan State during last year’s Maui Invitational, though they were only given a 22.6% chance of defeating Villanova by ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. Head Coach Mike Young is in his second season at the helm for the Hokies and has now had a full year to impact the culture of his program and shape the roster around his requisite requirements. Young, a former coach at Wofford College, has a history of making NCAA tournament appearances and will be aiming for postseason success now that the team is officially his. While such a small sample size is no indicator of an entire season, Young’s Hokies have shown that they are willing defenders with multiple offensive options, most of whom love to get up perimeter shots.

As you may have read in our game preview, the #3 Villanova Wildcats began their season with back-to-back victories prior to Saturday’s contest against the Hokies, most notably defeating the #18 Arizona State Sun Devils 83-74 on Thursday evening. Villanova finished last year with a respectable 24-7 record, third in the Big East, yet their championship pedigree will demand a greater result this go around. Ex-Cat Saddiq Bey was selected 19th overall in this year’s NBA draft, though Head Coach Jay Wright retained command over his next nine leading scorers from the 2019-20 season. Wright is now one of only three active coaches with multiple national titles on their resumé and employs a system in which every player can thrive and opposing defenses struggle to key in on tendencies. Four Wildcats came into the weekend clash averaging double-digit points this season, headlined by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s 23.0 standard, and they will be hoping that their balanced attack can lead them back to college basketball’s biggest stage.

The Postgame

“I failed… one of the oldest tricks in the book.”

— Mike Young

Mike Young placed blame upon himself for the play at the end of regulation in which Villanova’s Justin Moore drew a foul on Justyn Mutts. Young says that he did not coach his team properly, and he deserves the resultant criticism.

"They were the better team tonight."

— Jay Wright, Villanova Head Coach

Jay Wright told the media that while his team did not play a great game, Virginia Tech made it hard on them and deserved to win. Wright credited the coaching of Mike Young and was complimentary of the intangibles of the Hokie players.

ESPN analyst and legend Dick Vitale nominated Virginia Tech for "Team of the Day" after their defeat of #3 Villanova. This kind of national recognition could become a regular occurrence for the Hokies, should they keep performing to the standard that they did Saturday.

The Performance

As previously mentioned, this victory is the most important in Mike Young’s career as a Hokie. The Michigan State game last year was a sign of things to come, but defeating a third-ranked opponent in a shortened season is a giant advantage for a school that pundits gave little to no respect to entering the season. Virginia Tech showed resolve and determination, battling back from a double-digit deficit later in the second half and a puzzlingly overturned call at the end of normal play. The Hokies were inspired by varying players at different times and are adaptable to their adversaries, making them a legitimate threat to any opponent that they encounter.

Mike young villanova
Photo: Jessica Hill

Virginia Tech will be suiting up again Sunday night for an 8:00 p.m. (EST) clash with the South Florida Bulls.

Chalk this one up to the 22.6%.