Justyn Mutts' Double-Double Helps Hokies Win Second-Straight Against Lehigh
All eyes in Cassell Coliseum Thursday night were on Justyn Mutts in his first game of the season. It’s safe to say he didn’t disappoint.
Immediately, the graduate student came out of the gate with a fiery determination. After missing two straight free-throws, Mutts nailed a 3-pointer roughly two minutes in. 30 seconds later, he dished a clean pass down-low to forward Grant Basile, who slammed it home to make it 7-0 Hokies.
By the end of the night, Mutts shook off the NCAA mandated one-game suspension and posted his 17th career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, helping launch Virginia Tech (2-0) past Lehigh (0-2) 78-52.
“It felt amazing just to be out there in front of the Hokie nation again,” Mutts said after his season debut.
Mutts’ presence both offensively and defensively certainly gave the Hokies a boost knowing that their key fifth man was back in action. Coach Mike Young in particular was extremely happy to have him back, and spoke fondly of him after the game.
“He’s a special, special player. …I mean every time the ball’s in his hands something positive happens,” coach Mike Young said about Mutts’ playmaking ability.
Young has always had high praise for Mutts. And now that he’s back, the game plan has opened for the Hokies to get creative and execute plays offensively without doubt when he’s on the court.
“Why anybody in the world would double him is beyond me. You double him because he is gonna crush whoever’s guarding him, but as soon as you double him, he makes the easiest, most routine ball to where it’s supposed to be," Young said.
It’s easy to see why on the court Mutts’ return was so crucial for Virginia Tech. But it’s also what he does off the court that lifts the team.
“It was good to have Justyn [Mutts] back,” point guard Sean Pedulla said. “Even just like before the game and the energy he brings whenever he’s playing it’s just unmatched. He kinda brings everybody else’s energy up with him. It’s something that’s really good to have around.”
Pedulla tied his career-high mark of 20 points and tacked on three rebounds and two assists as well. But it wasn’t his usual 3-point game that helped him score the most points since Florida State in January 2021, however. The sophomore guard generated all but four of his points from down low and mid-range, and shot just 1-5 from three.
The only make from beyond the arc came when Pedulla chewed the clock in the final 30 seconds of the first half and drilled one from the top of the key with less than five seconds remaining.
“I don’t think my shot was really falling,” Pedulla said about his play. “I kinda got to those spots in the paint. …Just playing off two feet in [the eight foot range] is something I worked on a lot this summer. Trying not to force stuff downhill.”
It wasn’t just Pedulla who couldn’t connect. The Hokies offense didn’t have the spark it usually has regularly - especially from three. From long range, Virginia Tech went a measly 5-18, or 27.8%. That’s a significant drop from the 50% that were made in the season opener against Delaware State.
“We left some things on the table offensively,” Young said.
“[We] just missed some easy shots but I liked where the ball was getting. We’re still a little hurried, a little quick offensively, which will work its way out at some point.”
One of the three pointers that landed Thursday night came from guard MJ Collins - his first as a Hokie. The freshman has been logging significant playing time in his first season with Virginia Tech. He’s been on the court for more than 20 minutes in the first two games of the season.
The team is looking to build confidence around Collins, and hope the meaningful reps now will pay dividends for Virginia Tech further into the season.
“He’s gonna be a great player around here,” Young said.
“[He’s been] thrown to the fire a little bit here early. That fire is gonna get a lot hotter here real quick, but I’ve thought through two games he’s helped himself a lot in terms of my evaluation of him being able to help us win games.”
Collins has all of the tools to be a pivotal player for the Hokies. But through the first two games, he’s gotten off to a slow start. Despite his high minutes, he’s recorded 11 points total, shooting 4-11 from field goal range and 1-4 from three. One player who’s extremely high on Collins and his potential, however? Justyn Mutts.
“MJ’s gonna be a star," Mutts said. "I wouldn’t even say give him some time, I think he’s coming along already … he’s playing confidently too.”
“I think MJ is gonna be the best freshman guard in the ACC, and I think he’ll have a great opportunity to show what he has to do this year for sure.”
Only time will tell if Collins blossoms into the player Virginia Tech expects him to be. But in these early games, you’ll see number two on the court frequently for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech’s next opponent will be William & Mary at 6 p.m. Sunday. The ACC Championship banner will be raised into the Cassell rafters, and there will be a pregame ceremony to celebrate the team as well.