Virginia Tech Upsets No. 6 Virginia in Round Two of Commonwealth Clash
From the opening possessions by either team, one could tell that the second edition of the Commonwealth Clash this season was going to be a closely contested battle and go down to the final minutes. But unlike the first time these two in-state rivals met, Virginia Tech (14-9, 4-8 ACC) came out on top over No. 6 Virginia (17-4, 9-3 ACC) in front of a raucous Cassell Coliseum crowd 74-68.
The Hokies had control over the Cavaliers for nearly the entire game. UVa never held a lead at any point, and the two tied only once after the opening five minutes at 38 a piece midway through the second half. It was a much different performance by Virginia Tech compared to their last outing against Virginia and Miami on Tuesday.
“They were very physical,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said of Virginia Tech after the game. “They did a good job on holding our cutters – not holding but like making us fight to get open off screens – and they just spread out and worked and made us shoot some contested shots and you know it kinda came down to that. Coach [Mike Young] does a good job with them.”
Defense is what the game came down to, and both squads did a great job at making sure no shot was easy to come by. In the first half, the Cavaliers shot just 11-of-28 (39.3%) from the floor and 3-of-10 (30%) from 3-point range. On the other hand, the Hokies were 13-of-28 (46.4%) shooting wise and 3-of-11 (27.3%) from deep.
For Virginia Tech, the three-ball wasn’t clicking for Hunter Cattoor. Scoreless in the first half and shooting 0-of-4, Cattoor couldn’t find the scorer's sheet until midway through the second half, in which he hit a triple from the top of the key to increase the Hokies’ lead at the time by seven.
Hunter Cattoor gets his first points of the afternoon off of a 3-pointer from the top of the key. #Hokies lead by 7 49-42.— Nels Williams (@NelsWilliams) February 4, 2023
After he made his first trey, he made another 3-pointer a few minutes later. And then another a few minutes after that, in which he finally found his groove.
“Hunter Cattoor is never cold. If he misses a shot he misses a shot, but he’s never cold,” Justyn Mutts praised of Cattoor postgame. “I remember I looked at him before he started making the threes, and I told him ‘We all know you. We all know you’ll get hot and hit three in a row,’ and then he hit three in a row. But he’s a good player. Hunter’s my guy.”
“Just another mark of a really really good player,” Tech head coach Mike Young said of Cattoor for sticking with it until he hit his stride. “He’s not gonna get outside of himself, he’s not gonna get into an area he’s not accustomed to and take a bad one, [he does] what’s best for the team. What’s best for the team. Now his ball handling, his cutting, his defense on Franklin, we can’t live without. He may have only taken one shot in the first half. Two of the three in the second half were just like holy cow man, do you. Keep going. Awesome. He was terrific.”
Another player that shined and continues to impress for Virginia Tech is Sean Pedulla. By the end of the night, he finished as the leading scorer on the floor with 22 points, and when it came down to the wire of being fouled by Virginia twice in the last 21 seconds, he made all four attempts.
“He didn’t try to do too much, he stayed within himself,” Young said of Pedulla. “He was our point guard. He was our point guard. He distributed. I thought he had two bad shots. Other than that, he competed his face off with Clark. … [He] played a very, very good ballgame for our team.”
When the long-range shots weren’t working for the Hokies, its offense looked to Justyn Mutts to be the spark to fire past UVa. Finishing the night with eight assists, Mutts dished on passes on back-cuts to Grant Basile, MJ Collins, Lynn Kidd, and others to find the basket.
The points for Virginia Tech came from fouls, too. Although the Cavaliers only fouled twice in the first half, UVa fouled the Hokies 12 times in the second frame. Virginia Tech went to the line 17 times, and cashed in on 13 of those opportunities.
Although it was a neck and neck battle, the Cassell Coliseum crowd brought the energy for the full 40 minutes. It was so loud that UVa’s Ben Vander Plas even commented to Grant Basile on how ferocious the crowd was.
“They were awesome. The crowd was great,” Basile said afterwards. “I was talking to one of the dudes I know from the other team [Vander Plas] and he was saying, ‘wow this place is loud.’ That second half when you’re shooting free throws it is loud out there. We’re trying to call our play and everyone is just screaming. It’s awesome. Cassell fans are awesome. Students have been great for us.”
@CassellGuardVT has this place ROCKING. Blacksburg is electric right now for the #Hokies pic.twitter.com/t64KUbs696— Nels Williams (@NelsWilliams) February 4, 2023
In the end, Virginia Tech shot 50.9% (27-of-53) from the floor and 38.9% (7-of-18) from long-range. Virginia went 41% (25-of-61) from field goal range and 33.3% (6-of-18) from deep.
While the Hokies were happy to upset the No. 6 team in the nation, they still won’t be resting on their laurels. The team has a hole to dig themselves out of being in the bottom of the ACC.
“It would’ve been big to have Miami and this game back to back,” Sean Pedulla said. “But in a way the Miami loss pointed out some flaws that we had [in] finishing games and not being sloppy down the stretch that definitely helped us win today and fix some of our flaws so it was good.”
Next up is Boston College in Blacksburg on Wednesday. The last time the Hokies played the Eagles, Virginia Tech left Chestnut Hill with a loss and an injured Hunter Cattoor.