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Virginia Tech Can't Surpass No. 13 Miami, Lose to Hurricanes 76-70

By Nels Williams | February 21
Basile layup
Grant Basile again had a double-digit performance Tuesday night. (Virginia Tech Athletics)

Entering Tuesday’s matchup against No. 13 Miami, much was riding on the line for Mike Young & Co.’s Hokies. On the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament and its status as a team on the bubble of it in jeopardy, a win over the highly-touted Hurricanes would have been another star on a Virginia Tech resume that already features signature wins. But it also includes ugly losses and blemishes to weaker foes that make games against strong opponents such as Miami so much more important to come out on top of.

Unfortunately for Virginia Tech (16-1, 6-11 ACC), it would not find itself on the victor’s side tonight, as they fell to Miami (23-5, 13-4 ACC) 76-70.

“[We were] not quite good enough,” Tech head coach Mike Young said postgame. “And they [Miami] are playing some great, great basketball. We did some really really good things, but needless to say not enough versus the Hurricanes here tonight.”

Miami is, in fact, playing great, great basketball, but Tech played hard against a Hurricanes squad that is now on a seven-game win streak, and before Tuesday night, was shooting above 53% from the field in three of its last six games. However, the Hokies held the Canes to just 42% from the floor and 7-of-22 (32%) from deep. In fact, Virginia Tech’s defense clamped down harder on Miami in the latter 20 minutes, as its offense regressed from completing 15-of-33 (45%) from FG range in the first half to just 39% (12-of-31) in the second half.

It was a tight game until the very end. The largest lead the Hokies had was by nine points eight minutes into the first frame, but quickly, the Hurricanes evaporated Tech’s lead by storming their way into a 14-2 run into the third media timeout and led at the half 36-32. In the second half, Miami snuffed out any attempt of a Virginia Tech comeback. The Hokies were certainly close: twice did they sniff within one point early on in the second half. But the athleticism of Isaiah Wong, Nijel Pack, Norchad Omeir, and Bensley Joseph made sure that Virginia Tech would not take over.

“We held them to 42%, but I thought we could’ve rebounded a little better defensively,” Sean Pedulla said. “And it’s kinda hard to defend for a whole 25 seconds and then give up another rebound and have to defend for another possession. I thought as far as getting to shooters, like the Pitt game, we did a better job on that.”

Akin to the Hokies and Canes’ previous tilt in Coral Gables, Fla. a few weeks ago, Tech was out-rebounded once more, this time 39-to-31. Norchad Omier dominated the boards, scooping up 14 rebounds – six offensive, and eight defensive – all while picking up his 12th double-double of this season with 17 points as well.

“Norchad [Omier] is a load. He’s averaging four offensive rebounds a game – that’s an unbelievable statistic,” Young said in regard to the Canes’ Forward. “They [Miami] flat beat us to the ball a couple times and that hurt.”

Besides the Hurricanes triumphing over the Hokies, Tuesday night’s game also featured a significant achievement in Hunter Cattoor becoming the 50th Virginia Tech player to reach 1000 points, as well as the return of Rodney Rice from injury.

Cattoor hit his 1000th point off of what else but a 3-pointer early in the first half. Finishing the night with 15 points, six rebounds, and four assists, it was a solid performance by the Orlando, Fla. native.

“It was exciting,” Hunter Cattoor said about reaching the milestone. “Kinda going into it, people were telling me I was three points away and I had an opening. And it’s just one of those things where I got it in high school, [but I] never thought about getting it in college much. It’s a cool accomplishment. So I’m super grateful for it.”

Then, less than a minute in game time later, Rodney Rice went over to the scorer’s table during a Virginia Tech timeout and slapped his hand in front of the statisticians, sending Cassell into an excited frenzy.

Rice didn’t see much action and was on the court for only 11 minutes. In his first game back in six weeks, he ended the night with two rebounds and a block, but his return is a positive sign that he will be another asset available for the final stretch of the season and the ACC Tournament in early March.

“I thought he was farther along defensively,” Young said of Rice. “He’s a really really talented player offensively and that will come together rather quickly. … What has transpired in his first game he’s played in Cassell Coliseum – and the first time he’s worn a white uniform – and to see him healthy finally and participating was good and will be very good for our team as we move along.”

Next for Virginia Tech is a date with Duke on Saturday in Durham, N.C. Duke is currently riding a three-game win streak and is tied for 5th in the ACC with NC State. The last time the two met, the Hokies narrowly won over the Blue Devils 78-75.

For Tech, it’s been a struggle in finding its rhythm and identity as they enter the final few games of the regular season. But for Pedulla, closing out the season should be about continuing to do what's been working and always improving on what hasn't.

“I think like the whole season has been going, we just have to keep more of the same and doing what we’re doing and fix the things that we can fix,” Pedulla said on how Virginia Tech looks to finish the season. “… Just defense in general I think has taken a step in these last two games. But obviously, it wasn’t good enough tonight, so [we] just gotta look at the film, listen to what the coaches say, and just fix it.”