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Hokies Say You Betcha To ACC/Big Ten Challenge Victory, Defeat Minnesota 67-57

By Nels Williams | November 29
Pedulla POP Minnesota
Sean Pedulla. So hot right now. (Virginia Tech Athletics)

In the last ACC/Big Ten matchup for the foreseeable future, Virginia Tech made sure not to disappoint in front of a lively Cassell Coliseum crowd Monday night, defeating Minnesota 67-57.

It was a back-and-forth fight between the Hokies (7-1) and Golden Gophers (4-3) in the first half. Roughly 14 minutes into the contest, there were 11 lead changes between the two opponents, and neither team could pull away from one another until point guard Sean Pedulla put the Hokies up by five. With a little under six minutes to play in the opening 20, the narrow lead came thanks to a 3-pointer from the top of the key, followed by a driving layup that prompted a Minnesota timeout.

Unfortunately for the Golden Gophers, Minnesota would be outpaced by Virginia Tech once Pedulla opened the scoring, . After forward Grant Basile subsequently sank two free throws, the Edmond, Okla. product generated six straight points -- all from coming within the 3-point arc – to put Virginia Tech up by 13 with less than two minutes in the first half.

“He’s doing it night in and night out,” Tech head coach Mike Young said of Pedulla postgame. “He’s talented. He’s a good basketball player. … He’s doing very well.”

Pedulla finished the night atop the scorers sheet with 17 points, matching his current scoring average on the season. The flashy guard was all over the court for the Hokies, shooting 8-of-13 from the floor and 1-of-3 from long-range.

Eight games into the season, the sophomore guard has improved his game on all sides. His offensive versatility can come from seemingly everywhere on the court.

“I just kinda started using [playing down low and in the paint] and working on my game this summer,” Pedulla said of his play this season. I think it’s been a good part of my game so far this season just playing poised whenever I get in that paint playing off two feet.

“I definitely think I’ve been a lot smarter [in] knowing when to attack and when to just run the offense and when to get another person the ball.''

After the game, Justyn Mutts spoke highly of Pedulla and how he has developed so far this season.

“This is Sean’s game. We are all witnesses [to Sean],” Mutts complemented postgame. “You wouldn’t think that he might not be passing the eye test … but Sean’s probably the strongest guy on our team. … He can really do it all.”

Mutts followed closely behind Pedulla with 16 points of his own, and Grant Basile rounded third with nine.

In the second half, Basile and Mutts gobbled up rebounds for the Hokies. Both finished with 17 combined, and Virginia Tech out-rebounded Minnesota 42-27. The two also led the team with seven combined blocks.

The Virginia Tech defense also appeared better than it has before this season. The Hokies suffocated the Golden Gophers, making its offense take contested shots and drain the shot clock before putting up forced and off-target attempts. Minnesota shot 22-of-60 (36.7%) from inside the arc and 6-of-23 (26.1%) from behind.

Although the Hokies improved upon some aspects Monday night, there are still some causes for concern with the team. Turnovers have and continue to plague Virginia Tech: before Monday night, the Hokies averaged 8.1 turnovers per game, sitting at third in the country and first in the ACC in that margin. And against Minnesota, the team coughed up a season high 14, with Justyn Mutts leading the category with five turnovers of his own.

“Mutts was a little loose with the ball, which is out of character for him,” Young said. “There’s such an emphasis every day about not turning it over. We weren’t as good with the ball tonight as we typically are.”

The offense has been shaky as of late as well. Including Monday night, Virginia Tech has shot 20-of-81 (24.6%) from behind the arc in the last four. Against the Golden Gophers, the Hokies offense regressed shooting-wise from the first half to the second: in the first, it shot 15-of-26 (57.7%) from field goal range and 3-of-7 (42.9%) from deep, but in the second, it fell to 13-of-31 (41.9%) and 2-of-7 (28.6%).

Core players such as Darius Maddox and Hunter Cattoor aren’t producing what is expected of them offensively either. On Monday night, Maddox shot just 1-7 from the floor and 0-2 from deep, while Cattoor’s only points came from two treys on four attempts.

“It’s nothing egregious, it’s not selfish in our team at all. Not at all,” Young said of the team’s shooting woes. “I told ‘em during the timeout, ‘This looks like a damn pickup game in July, and I can’t stand it in July, and I sure as hell don’t want to watch it here in November.’

“[The] ball’s not moving like it should. “It’s getting stuck and it’s on the floor too much. We need desperately … we need Wednesday and Thursday in the worst way to practice. … And I don’t know if that’s going to pull us out of it, but something better because we got a pretty rugged stretch coming up.”

Virginia Tech is gearing up to face strong opponents in this next 13-day stretch of their schedule, starting with No. 18 ranked North Carolina. The Hokies host the Tar Heels next Sunday, who seek revenge for their semifinal loss in the 2022 ACC Tournament. Then, it’s the Dayton Flyers just three days later on Wednesday in Blacksburg, and finally, it’s off to Brooklyn, N.Y. for the 2022 Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational against Oklahoma State the following Sunday.

Of the three, North Carolina will be the most formidable opponent Virginia Tech has faced so far this season. However, the Tar Heels are in a rough stretch of their own – previously ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll, UNC plummeted 17 spots in the most recent poll thanks to back-to-back losses from then-unranked Iowa State and then-ranked No. 18 Alabama in a quadruple OT thriller.

“I’m super excited for them to come in here,” Mutts said of the matchup. “They gotta make the trip. They gotta come in here and deal with Hokie Nation, so I think we got that on our side. But UNC, that’s a really good team right there. …That’ll be a battle and a good game for sure.”

Tipoff between the Hokies and Tar Heels is slated for 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon and will be televised on the ACC Network.