Clark's Trey Lifts Cavaliers Over Hokies In Thriller

UVA dagger kills Hokies' second-half comeback attempt.

[Mark Umansky]

For a team that has had inconsistencies in just about every aspect of its game at various points throughout the season, there's been one steady for Virginia Tech men's basketball — its fight.

More often than not, second-half rallies have come up just short for the Hokies. At the same time, however, those performances have provided fans with just enough optimism for the future.

That trend continued on Wednesday as Tech caught fire in the second half and rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit, only to have Kihei Clark's three with 2.2 seconds remaining left rival Virginia to a thrilling 56-53 ACC road win inside of a packed house at Cassell Coliseum.

"Hats off to Virginia and Coach [Tony] Bennett's team," Hokies first-year coach Mike Young said. "I absolutely take nothing away from their efforts, they played awfully hard as they always do. There's no consolation in getting your ears pinned back, but Virginia fought. The Hokies fought. That was a really, really good college basketball game, and I wish we could have gotten a better shake there at the end, wish we could have made a couple more plays there at the end."

The fact that Tech was only down 15 when the two teams went to the locker rooms at half was actually surprising. The Hokies shot just 5-of-24 from the field, including 1-of-13 from 3-point range, and scored a season-low 11 points — their lowest in a half in ACC play since 2004.

It was a strange sight for a team that has thrived on the ability to shoot threes this season at times, but was also a credit to the Cavaliers' defense. In the first meeting against Virginia, Tech scored just 17 points and struggled to ever get accustomed to the stingy "Packline Defense."

"We shot 20 percent in the first half and we were miserable going down by 15 [points]," Young said. "We had great shots in the first half and had the same shots in the second that we had in the first. We just happened to get the second half shots to go down. P.J. [Horne] made three 3-pointers. Jalen Cone had an awfully good half. Hunter Cattoor was really good. [U.Va] played awfully well and sound. I thought we fought and competed our tails off defensively in the first half to limit them to 26 points. I was surprised that they shot 45 percent from the field, and [in the second half we had] just a better level of movement and ball movement, but at some point, you just have to get the ball in the basket. It puts too much pressure on your defense if you don't. It's a much easier game, it's a better officiated game when the ball is going in the basket."

Tech opened the second half with back-to-back-to-back triples from Cattoor, Cone and Horne to cut the deficit to single digits. The Hokies continuously chipped away from there before Cattoor later hit another triple — his second — with 4:35 remaining to give Tech its first lead of the night.

"I hit the 3, came back and we had a lot of momentum," said Cattoor, who finished with six points. "The atmosphere in Cassell was great and I really thought we could pull it out."

Cone continued to do what he's done all season and played well from beyond the arc, but it was Horne that was arguably the biggest difference maker in the second half with a trio of three-pointers.

With the junior forward suddenly looking like the player that shot so well earlier in the season, Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite, who had 13 first-half points and 19 for the game, was forced to spend more energy on the defensive end and that allowed Tech to get more stops of their own.

"We were doing the exact same things in the second half that we were doing in the first half, but we thought that there were a couple actions that we could pick on and get some things freed up," Young said. "I thought that we screened better in the second half, and that certainly helped our play. Jalen got behind a couple screens and banged some shots. Diakite is such a terrific defender and he did exactly what they wanted him to do, but P.J. found the range and looked like P.J. again, so that was a welcome sight. There was nothing that we saw towards the later stages of the first half that we turned our attention to. We did exactly the same things in the second half that we did in the first half. We just simply started to make shots."

After shooting so poorly from deep in the first half, the Hokies went 8-for-14 from 3-point range in the second. Tech's bench outscored the Cavaliers 36-10. It was the eighth time this season that the Hokies reserves have scored 30 or more points.

"You knew they were going to make a run here, and they started attacking and made some long threes," Bennett said. "A few of them were contested and on a few of them we had some breakdowns because they were running good actions. So, give credit to how they attacked and what they did, and we weren't sharp. It was so long ago when we played them the first time, and we played one of our best games at our place. The 3-point shot is such a momentum swing, so they just started going. We could feel the crowd, and they sure wanted the bacon you could tell that, and when they got the lead this place got very loud. So, our guys responded well."

Mike Young called a timeout with 22 seconds to play after Virginia went on a 5-0 run to go up 53-51. Out of the timeout, Tyrece Radford drove hard down the lane toward the basket and scored to even the score up at 53-53 with less than eight seconds left in the contest.

But just as quickly as the crowd erupted in celebration of Radford's bucket, Clark came down on the opposing end and took a few dribbles in front of Cone before pulling up for a gut-wrenching three-point dagger with just 2.2 seconds remaining, giving the Cavaliers the lead and forcing Young to call his final timeout. Landers' Nolley's tie attempt from halfcourt sailed off the backboard at the buzzer.

"Sometimes we call timeouts, sometimes I decide not to, and thank goodness I didn't," Bennett said about the final play. "They [Virginia Tech] could've set it up, the score was tied, and sometimes it's just better to let a guy get momentum and attack. Kihei backed the guy up and what a beautiful, beautiful three. He's a winner, and I've said that often. I kind of challenged him — I didn't think he had the greatest second half with some of his defensive things, but he responded the right way with the way he played, and we needed every ounce of it there at the end."

It was another devastating loss for the Hokies, but one that showed some positives to work with moving forward. One change was Nolley coming off the bench for the second time this season.

With the redshirt freshman in a shooting slump that has lasted for over half of ACC play, Young opted to go with Radford, Wabissa Bede, Isaiah Wilkins, John Ojiako and Nahiem Alleyne as the team's starting unit. It was the first time this season Tech has started those five players.

"John Ojiako had been playing well," Young said. "I'm trying to get him to 21 or 22 minutes because I feel that good about his direction as a player, and I thought Isaiah Wilkins helped our team. He stuck it up in there and played a good basketball game against Duke. Nothing more than that. I've always been a lot more concerned with who finishes than who starts. Typically, who finishes is who helps us win. I thought the lineup there in the late second half did that."

Nolley didn't necessarily fix his shooting woes — he still finished just 3-of-10 from the field — but he did lead the team with 13 points and didn't force his shot quite as often as in the past.

"We started knocking down the shots," Cone said. "We played pretty good defense. Our shots weren't falling in the first half. In the second half, once the shots got going, our team started to get going. When no shots are falling, it changes the trajectory of the game. We just have to keep fighting. No matter what, we have to keep fighting. [Young] told us that the defense was pretty good, we just have to get shots to start falling and that's exactly what happened for us."

It was the fifth-straight win for the Cavaliers while Tech (15-13, 6-11 ACC) has now lost three in a row and nine of its last 10. Virginia has also now won four in a row against the Hokies.

The last time Tech defeated the Cavaliers was in 2018 in a 61-60 overtime victory in Charlottesville. The most recent victory in Blacksburg was an 80-78 double-overtime win in 2017.

Despite coming up short, the Hokies did maintain one trend they've shown recently and that's their continued effort in the second half and the willingness to play until the final buzzer.

And regardless of the struggles, that was enough to maintain Young's optimism moving forward.

"There's no point in getting into all of that," Young said. "We've got to find ways to win. We don't get into feelings around here. We just played a really good, hard basketball game against a really good opponent, and lost. We'll take tomorrow off, out of necessity, and reload. We'll get ready to go to Louisville and find a way to play a really good ball game and give ourselves a chance to win."

Comments

It's not the size of the dog in a fight. It's the size of the fight in a dog.

Great writeup. What an effort in that second half. The team could have easily laid down after a horrible start and they didn't. I love the grind of these guys and I want them to win so bad because it's clear they want it. We're a little bit of experience and a few key players away from having what could be an elite team. And CMY is the man. GO HOKIES!!

Disappointed to not get the W, but that was quite a coaching job by CMY
as well as super effort from the team.

Another great article Cody!

Two observations about the game:

1. I LOVE the way this team fights. They had arguably the worst first half of basketball I've ever seen, and yet they didn't pack it in. They came our swinging after the break. CMY is building culture.

2. I literally have no idea why Nolley wont (or doesn't know how, or isn't confident) utilize his pump fake to generate a foul or get to the basket (although he did that a time or two last night). EVERY SINGLE TIME he pump fakes deep, his defender leaves his feet. It's such an easy decision... I just don't get it. But, he is young and I trust that CMY is helping him develop, so maybe we'll see some of that next season.

Is coronavirus over yet?

Great write up Cody. This team will be better next season, so let's just go with the flow for rest of this season and learn from this.

Bennett is a funny guy. He recognized how badly we wanted more free bacon and fought hard to prevent that.

It was a great second half and very bad first half. Even the Cavalier fan sitting next to me admitted they got away with about 4 moving screens in the first half.

they got away with about 4 moving screens in the first half

Damn, that could have been the difference in the game.

Also, its a shame we couldn't get a time out after Radford scored to tie it at 53. If we get Bede in to cover Clark on that last three, it might have missed - he's our best on ball defender and I think the pressure would have been better. No complaints on Cone's efforts but he got picked off on that play at the top of the key and couldn't recover fast enough. Bede is used to that pick being there nearly every time down the floor.

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

It's likely CMY saw what everyone on earth sees - That Clark owns Bede (remember the first game? Remember the first half?). I don't think Bede would have prevented a score any more than Cone did.

Is coronavirus over yet?

It was honestly a great shot by Clark.

Yes it was!

My son and I were like... "Well if Clark beats you like that, there's really nothing you can do."

Is coronavirus over yet?

I am very happy with the progression of Cone and would like to see him play more if he is physically strong enough.

Cone is a very quick, on ball defender. Lykes, of Miami, was not able to consistently drive past him. Clark was not able to either.

I think that you see a limit of minutes played by the freshmen to try and keep them from hitting the freshman wall. I think CMY has done a great job of trying to give all of the players a chance to be successful and have belief that they can make the required plays. It is consistency,experience and composure that is lacking, not skill.

The refs have changed what they allow the centers to do on offense and defense.

  • On offence, they allow the moving screens at the elbow (and extending a leg out while screening) that free up drives to the basket.
  • On defense, they allow the centers try and help more on the picks beyond the free throw line.
    • Mamadi Diakite would hedge hard on the screen to force the guard backwards a step, eliminating a drive or a chance at a three all at once.
    • Jeff Allen would pick up at least two fouls a game trying to force the guard to take a step backwards when defending a screen.

Diakite is just better at hedging than Allen without fouling. Rules have changed a bit as well, where a defender gets more leeway to make contact as long this they are maintaining good position. Thing is, the contact can't be an extended arm / hand check, those still tend to draw fouls. Allen always seemed to take a swipe at the ball which can lead to a "looks like a foul" whistle.

I agree that more leeway is given otherwise, the game would be more 3 point oriented. As long as you are playing solid help defense, you are normally ok in the eye's of today's refs.

Allen often went from stopping the guard from turning the corner to trying to steal the ball with multiple swipes. That said, Allen got more ticky-tack calls than any Hokie I can remember.

The refs of today's ACC are 100 times better than 10 years ago.
Plus there is one who has officiated a couple Hokies games this year that runs up and down the court like a dressage horse.

I would rather we take all the brutal losses this season than a season where we have real aspirations, a little easier to swallow I guess

VT '17

I joked with the guy next to me last night. Who has had the more surprising season, the Cav's or the Hokies? They have underperformed, and we have actually overperformed.

Watching this play out this year has been rough.

But.

We are going to be really good in the future. This team has a lot of fight in it, and they have shown an ability to go toe to toe with pretty much everyone, outside Duke. We have a chance in pretty much every game we play, but, at least in recent weeks, we struggle badly to close out games and put teams away. Our late game offense needs a lot of work, we force up a lot of rushed shots, and we shoot way too early in the shot clock on late game possessions where we really need to shorten the game. Last night, we had a great look, but we also left 11 and a half seconds on the clock, more than enough time for UVa to set up their offense for one last look. And they made us pay. But we're a young team, and that's what young teams do. We will learn from this year. We will learn when to throttle it up and when to idle for a few. And once we do, with the talent and team we have, damn we're going to be tough to play against.

King Alum of the House Hokie, the First of His Name, Khal of the Turkey Legs, The rightful Heir to the Big Board, the Unbanned, Breaker of Trolls and Father of Gritty

Despite the misses in 1st half, sure looked like Mike Young has cracked the code on the pack line. There were very few tortured possessions and we seemed to be well versed in how to get downhill in the paint and get open 3's. Watched a lot of UVa this year and we attacked them as well as anyone, with a bunch of freshman at that. Very promising.

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

One thing we forget... this is CMY's first pass through the full ACC schedule, too. Watching tape, etc. only gets you so far as we all know. At Wofford his teams played 1 or 2 ACC teams per year. I think one of the things that stands out to me is the difference between UVA - 1 and UVA - 2. There were adjustments in roster, scheme and game plan (both offensively and defensively). CMY's 30-5 record last year at Wofford wasn't a fluke.

I think that with experience, strength and conditioning, and a year or two of recruiting we may all be surprised and get to hang a few more banners in the Cassell.

And no surprise there, it's Wally Lancaster with an airball that looked gorgeous on its way to nowhere...
2/15/89, VT vs. South Carolina...

Lee

I know CMY doesn't like to take time outs at end of game to let the opponent get organized and draw up a play. And I know Bede was cold, not having played in quite a while. But I really would like to see CMY take the TO after we tie the game and replace Cone with Bede in that situation. Bede is bigger and a better defender right now. Cone had a great half, so it is hard to take him out; but it is the last play of regulation and matters so much. Get your best defenders into the game and on the ball. I'd also consider putting Radford on the ball in those last possession situations.

Anyway, amazing game, amazing effort. Looking forward to the next one.

Man, Hokie Twitter was brutal during that first half.

I thought about watching the game when I got home, but reading that made me feel better about watching Lego Masters. Guess I missed a great come back and potential victory.

I like seeing this in a team, they learn a lot from things like that, and considering how young we are, you have to think great things for years to come. If they keep this fight and add the experience, it's going to be Glorious.

Previously LowBrau.

I want to like Lego Masters, but I'm struggling. Love Will Arnett too, but I get this awkward vibe with his interactions with these lego nerds who have been working for 12 hours straight on legos. They end up breaking down and fighting with each other when these long projects don't work out and it becomes more of a drama show than a competition of fun lego builds. I also don't like how the very first episode gave such a big advantage.