Virginia Tech entered Saturday’s game against Virginia as one of the more efficient offensive teams in the country. Mike Young’s squad led the nation in fewest turnovers per game, and the Hokies were among the ACC’s best in the assist-to-turnover ratio category.
Enter Tony Bennett’s Pack Line defense.
The Cavaliers made the Hokies look lost Saturday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena, beating their in-state rival 65-39. The normally efficient offensive attack of Virginia Tech sputtered, finishing with 13 turnovers to just six assists and shooting under 30% from the field.
Through three ACC games, the Cavaliers (11-2, 3-0 ACC) are allowing an average of just 40 points per game.
“That’s the most active our hands and our feet have been, and I think collectively we were solid defensively,” Bennett said.
It took Virginia Tech 16 minutes and 19 seconds to surpass 10 points in the game, and it ended the first half with just 17 points. The Hokies (10-4, 1-2 ACC) added eight turnovers to just two assists. Freshman Landers Nolley II was the only player keeping them in the game, finishing the first half with 15 of Virginia Tech’s 17 points.
Nolley buried a 3-pointer after 14 minutes and 18 seconds of play for the Hokies’ first made shot from beyond the arc. Outside of Nolley, the Hokies failed to score with any semblance of consistency in the opening 20 minutes. In the second half, Nolley only mustered three points.
Meanwhile, Virginia slowly built up a lead as it went through a few offensive struggles of its own before heating up. Braxton Key proved valuable once again, tying for the team lead with 18 points. He also added 10 rebounds. He showcased an array of moves, finishing around the rim and burying the few jumpers he took.
Key played with a splint with padding rather than the stiff cast he’s been using.
“It felt really comfortable today,” Key said. “It’s a lot lighter. I have more access to my palm, so catching the ball, shooting feels a lot better.”
Kihei Clark performed well in spurts. He scored a quick five points late in the first half prior to a Kody Stattmann dunk as the first half clock drained away. Virginia scored seven points in the final two minutes of the first half to take a 30-17 lead into the break.
Any chance Virginia Tech had at a comeback quickly evaporated in the first 5-10 minutes of the second half.
Virginia used a 15-8 spurt to take a commanding 45-25 lead with about 12 minutes left in the game. Key and Clark were the two Cavaliers leading the charge offensively. Defensively, everything seemed to go Virginia’s way.
The Cavaliers lost a scramble for a loose ball near their bench. When Virginia Tech came up with the ball, Diakite applied pressure, which ultimately led to a 10-second backcourt violation. A few plays later, Key fell down battling for an offensive rebound. As Key ran back up the court, Virginia Tech turned the ball over within seconds, which allowed Clark to hit Key for a layup. The bucket gave UVa a 42-23 lead before both teams traded points.
Clark finished with 18 points and six assists. He committed four turnovers.
“He played terrific, both ends of the floor,” Bennett said. “We tried to open the court a little more for him and let him attack, make some decisions, and he was really good. I was proud of the way he battled … his pressure he put on both ends, offensively and defensively, certainly was one of the major keys to victory.”
With a 45-25 lead, the Cavaliers leaned on their defense and an array of 3-point makes. Tomas Woldetensae, Chase Coleman and Stattmann each drilled 3-pointers in the final 10 minutes to help the Cavaliers keep the Hokies at bay. Six different Cavaliers made 3-point shots in the win.
Virginia’s offense performed well, shooting over 40% from the field for the fourth consecutive game.
“Guys are making shots, so it feels good,” Clark said. “I think guys are in rhythm. We put in the work, so we just got to continue to play, and even if we don’t make shots, we just got to continue to work the offense, but yeah, it feels good right now.”
With decent offensive output and its traditional defensive excellence, Virginia proved to be too much for its in-state rival.