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Justyn Mutts' Stellar Performance Powers Virginia Tech Past No. 18 North Carolina

By Nels Williams | December 05
Mutts was in his bag on Sunday. (Will Trent)

When MJ Collins picked up the pass from Grant Basile with nearly a minute and thirty to go in the first half, something special was brewing in Blacksburg. The freshman guard scooped it, slammed it home, and screamed in fiery passion towards the student section. A sold-out Cassell crowd erupted.

That type of energy was what fueled Virginia Tech past No. 18 North Carolina 80-72. For the third time in the last five years, the Hokies are 8-1, and start off ACC play on the right foot at 1-0.

Although it got frisky towards the end, Virginia Tech got the job done, handing UNC its fourth straight loss.

“Virginia Tech is a force in the ACC,'' Justyn Mutts said postgame. “I’ve been saying this. It’s not news to me, and it shouldn’t be news to anybody else."

Both teams started off tight, but Virginia Tech was able to pull away from North Carolina thanks to a quick 12-2 run in the middle of the first half. The Hokies would lead the Tar Heels at the half 37-27.

Shots simply weren’t falling UNC’s way in the first frame. After 20, North Carolina was 9-of-23 from the floor and a measly 1-of-9 from long-range. The Hokies, on the other hand, were hot, shooting 16-of-31 from field goal distance and 3-of-6 from 3-point range. All three of the 3-point shots came from Hunter Cattoor, who moved his way past Jarell Eddie (2010-14) with 192 3-pointers into 9th all-time in program history.

Cattoor didn’t even know he broke it.

“It’s always a blessing just to play this game and go out there," Cattoor said of the record after the game. “I just go out there for the love of it just to fight and win games. So whatever records that come along with doing that it’s always a blessing to have. But it’s always cool to kinda see people that have gone through this program that people acknowledge and recognize as greats and kinda see my names by them.”

Overall, Virginia Tech simply looked better on the court than North Carolina. The Hokies gobbled up rebounds, sank more shots, and were better defensively at stopping the out of sync Tar Heels. Armando Bacot not playing for UNC certainly favored Virginia Tech - the ACC preseason player of the year suffered an injury to his shoulder in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday against Indiana - and although he was shooting in warmups, he did not step onto the court Sunday.

For Justyn Mutts, no Bacot getting in his way was music to the graduate student’s ears. It was his world yesterday, and he put on a show for the Cassell crowd by posting his 20th double-double of his career with 27 points and 11 rebounds.

“He’s been there. He’s done it. Guy’s played 9 years of college basketball, he’s seen some plays now!,” Young said, joking of Mutts’ long tenure in college. “He’s a terrific ball handler, he’s a great passer, he’s quite comfortable. That is the luxury of having older people. He’s a deity, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed coaching him and have the opportunity to coach him for three, for months more is a mountain top experience.”

V Tvs UNC 13
MJ Collins was oh-so close to slamming home his second dunk of the night in the second half. (Will Trent)

On the rest of the scorers sheet, Pedulla finished second with 14, Cattoor third with 13, and Basile fourth with 12.

“We were better,” Young said of Tech’s offense. “I thought Sean, man, that kid’s aggressive, sometimes to my detriment, but I’m not going to slow him down. He’s proven to us he can do it and I think he’s got to have the rope to play the game. … But we’re going to get better there as well.

“We needed today. We needed the Tar Heels, someone of that ilk to play, and that heightened sense of awareness and embracing the grit and the grime that goes along with winning games of this nature.”

Young was right - they were better offensively. UNC finished the night 24-of-51 (47.1%) from the floor and 3-of-17 (17.6%) from long-range. The Hokies, on the other hand, shot 31-of-61 (50.8%) from field goal range and 7-of-19 (36.8%) from 3-point.

Bacot not playing also meant the rebounding aspect of the game was tilted in the Hokies’ favor. By the end of the first half, UNC had zero offensive rebounds, and were out-rebounded 21-to-13. By the time the buzzer hit, the Tar Heels only had four, and had been out-boarded 39 (10/29) to 25 (4-21).

One Hokie who was very solid down low was true freshman MJ Collins. The Clover, S.C. native had more rebounds offensively (five) than UNC did the entire game. He finished the night with eight points to match his boards, and two of those came from that unforgettable dunk in the first half.

“He’s going to be a really, really good player,” Young said of Collins. “Like most freshmen, he’s had some choppy moments. He’s helping us; I thought he was much improved defensively tonight. Just his awareness is getting so much better as we go along. That stands to reasons: the more plays they see, the more comfortable they are grabbing it, ‘I got it, I got it.’ And he’s doing that more and more consistently.”

The Tar Heels would not go quietly into the afternoon, however. North Carolina chipped away at Virginia Tech’s lead in the second half, going on an 8-0 run that was capped by two RJ Davis free throws. But the Hokies would hold strong, and were able to escape the full court press that North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis implemented.

North Carolina now falls to 5-4 on the season and will most likely slip out of the AP Top 25 poll.

Virginia Tech now moves on to host Dayton Wednesday. The Hokies fell to the Flyers last season in Ohio, and look to make sure they come out on top this time. Tipoff is slated for 8 P.M.