Aluma, Suffocating Defense Help Hokies Roll Past Virginia

Virginia Tech was outstanding in all phases on Saturday night, and it walked out with another Top 25 win, this time against rival Virginia.

Keve Aluma and Hunter Cattoor celebrate against Virginia. [ACC Pool \ Matt Gentry]

"How 'bout them Hokies?"

The signature phrase from Mike Young has been emblematic of the Virginia Tech basketball faithful's outlook, particularly of late, and for good reason.

After finishing 16-16 in 2019-20 and being picked 11th in the ACC preseason poll by the media, Virginia Tech is one of eight teams in the country with four wins over AP Top 25 foes, the latest victory coming in its 66-51 Cassell Coliseum rout of No. 8 Virginia.

Only No. 1 Gonzaga has a better resume against ranked opponents at this point in the season. The Hokies and 'Zags are the only two schools on that eight-team list to have at least one win on a neutral floor and post an undefeated record against the AP Top 25.

To add to that, Young & Co. are 7-2 in the ACC, the best start in the conference since Tech joined the league in 2004, and on Saturday night earned the program's first win over UVa since Kerry Blackshear's game winner over the No. 2 Cavaliers in 2018.

It's been a wild two weeks for the Hokies. They barely scraped out a win at Wake Forest. Their contest against Boston College was postponed because of COVID-19. That was followed up with a very poor showing at Syracuse and culminated with the indefinite suspension of star guard Tyrece Radford.

Classic Tech-UVa storylines were poised to repeat themselves ahead of the Commonwealth clash: the Hokies on a slump but needing another quality win against one of the best defenses in the country, and this go-around UVa had offensive prowess to boot (No. 11 Adj. Efficiency, No. 16 3P% per KenPom).

Indeed, that was the tale that played out in the first half. Kihei Clark, UVa's pesky 5-foot-nine point guard, went off for 11 points and hit three treys. The Hokies had to rely on Keve Aluma's 16 points to even remain competitive by intermission, and yet they still trailed by eight, 29-21.

The rivals were in similar positions through the first eight minutes of the second half. The Cavaliers led 42-34 with 12 minutes to play and Tech hadn't scored a bucket in almost three minutes.

Then all of a sudden, something magical happened. The script flipped. Tech made shots on one end and got stops on the other. It only takes one hand to tally the amount of times such a prolific turnaround occurred over the Tony Bennett era.

Nevertheless, the Hokies put their head down and outscored UVa 31 to nine over the last 12 minutes. That included a 19-0 run for Tech over 6:10, from 7:22 to 1:12 against the bunch that led the ACC in defensive efficiency. Packline broken.

Between the 12- and eight-minute media timeouts, the Hokies seized control of the game and made four straight buckets, including three triples.

Wabissa Bede's three-pointer with 8:57 brought the UVa lead to one, which Jay Huff pushed back to three, but Hunter Cattoor's deep bomb with 7:22 to play, followed by a Bede steal and a Huff foul, swung all of the momentum in Virginia Tech's favor.

Over that backbreaking 19-point stretch Tech hit six of eight field goals and only turned the ball over once, a memorable shot clock violation with 1:28 left that Cattoor decided to slam home anyway.

As it picked away at the lead and eventually built its own, Tech forced Virginia to miss ten field goals in a row over the same period. The Hokies' defense was stifling and physical.

Bede wouldn't let Clark budge on the offensive end, and there were even a few moments, from this writer's vantage point in Cassell, where Clark complained to the ref about Bede bumping him and grabbing him.

Aluma and Cattoor each added blocks and Tech forced UVa into the thin end of the shot clock multiple times. Talk about a role reversal.

"I give Coach Young credit because their team is scrappy and physical," Bennett said. "You could feel how badly they wanted it. They were hungry and gritty, and I didn't feel like we answered that."

Aluma caused UVa problems all night, especially in the first half, and he forced Bennett to put five different defenders on him because he got so many UVa players in foul trouble.

Huff, Sam Hauser, Fancisco Caffaro, Trey Murphy and Justin McKoy all tried to guard the six-foot-nine redshirt junior. None succeeded.

Aluma actually drew nine fouls. Huff picked up four while Hauser, Caffaro and Murphy each committed three. What's more impressive is Aluma did all that dirty work underneath the basket and finished the game with zero fouls.

He attempted eight free throws (made seven) and couldn't be stopped on the inside, scoring 29 points, besting his previous career-high of 26 points vs. Miami, on 10-15 shooting. He also grabbed ten rebounds for his fourth double-double in maroon and orange.

"He's good. You can see he can get us into foul trouble," Bennett said. "When he hit a couple of threes, that put some pressure on us. We tried to trap at times and sometimes it was good and sometimes they made some plays out of it."

After Aluma went off for 16 in the first half, which accounted for all but five of Tech's points, UVa tried everything to stop him, double-teaming him almost every time he caught a pass. The Cavaliers even threw three defenders at him on occasion.

All that did was open up Aluma's teammates.

Tech proceeded to make 60.9% (14-23) of its attempts from the floor and 70% (7-10) from long range. Cattoor had himself a second half, scoring 13 of his 15 points, while Bede (seven points), Jalen Cone (six) and Nahiem Alleyne (three) all got in on the action.

The game slowly turned on its side β€” Tech couldn't miss and UVa couldn't hit β€” and the Hokies rode the momentum off into the sunset.

"That team is so deflating," Young said. "You guard your tail off and Hauser (Sam), Kihei (Clark), Jay (Huff), one of those guys are banging a three with three seconds left on the shot clock and they had four of those in the first half. I thought we were picture perfect. I thought we were right there and we were doing a nice job, just a bit more toughness and resolve throughout the shot clock, and you better be against that bunch or they'll burn you.

"This team of mine, they'll fight you tooth and nail, night in and night out. That performance defensively was exceptional, but it was not a surprise."

The Hokies guarded more than their tail off. They forced Virginia to shoot 37% from the floor, which is the Cavaliers' lowest shooting percentage in any game this season. Their previous low was 41% in the Nov. 27 loss to San Francisco.

Even on the day after Christmas against the powerful Gonzaga, the 'Hoos hit 48% of their shots.

Not against Virginia Tech, and not on Saturday. The Hokies didn't have any of it.

Tech found its will to win and locked UVa down in the second half. They crashed the glass (30-24), only allowed four free throw attempts, didn't let any player score more than 13 points (Huff) and forced the Cavaliers to shoot 30% in the second half.

The Year One to Two leap has been impressive. Down eight at halftime without Radford, Cartier Diarra and Cordell Pemsl, Tech fought like heck and found a way to mount a comeback.

"The biggest thing is maturity," Cattoor said. "We had a really young team last year and it was the first year for a lot of guys playing in the ACC. I think having a year under our belt and those experiences have really helped us."

In a season-and-a-half at Tech, Young has fared 5-5 against the AP Top 25 (4-0 this season) and has wins against Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Jay Wright, Mike Krzyzewski and Tony Bennett. Combined, the six have won 13 NCAA Tournament titles.

Those that criticized Whit Babcock's hire in April of 2019 look pretty silly now, eh?

Young, the Radford native who admitted that his love of basketball blossomed in Cassell Coliseum while watching Allan Bristow and Tech's 1973 NIT Championship team play, has shown that he's the perfect culture fit in Blacksburg. From his pregame popcorn to him thanking the Tech pep band for coming to tonight's game, Young has cultivated great culture on Washington St. And the wins have followed.

"I'm having the best time coaching this team. Not just because we're winning a lot, but because they're about the right stuff. It's been a lot of fun for an ole boy like me."

Comments

"You could feel it how badly they wanted it," said UVa coach Tony Bennett. "I didn't feel we answered that."
Sweet words from Coach Bennett.

foresthokie
US Navy Vet

I just want to know what happened in about the last quarter of the game where a flip switched, and suddenly we were making every shot and UVa was missing everything. FAM!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jet Sweep

Flip switched? I like it.

My wife takes the kids and leaves the house while I watch my Hokie games.........nuff said

You heard me right.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jet Sweep

From now on when it happens in a game...this should be the in-game phrase we use. So it is written.

My wife takes the kids and leaves the house while I watch my Hokie games.........nuff said

This is the way...

I know this team has some weak spots that show themselves from time to time, but dang, they can play with anyone in the country.

I love what CMY is doing in Blacksburg!

Is coronavirus over yet?

That list of coaches he has beaten....... wow!

Let's just add Self, Few, and Calipari to that list.

This would be the year to destroy Cal, unfortunately...or fortunately, they are so bad, barring them winning the SEC Tournament they are not likely making the post season. Last check they already have 10 losses. Good year to add Self to the Trophy Case too. Especially if Kansas plays like they did last night against Tennessee. That was the Jayhawks 6th loss of the season.

Crazy to think that right now Kansas, Duke, UNC, and Kentucky have a combined 26 losses at what would typically be just past the midway point of a season.

Make that 27 losses with Duke losing to Miami. Would have been 27 except Kentucky ducked #5 Texas.

Just pointing it out, we've now held consecutive conference opponents to 51 points, and those games were either on the road or against a ranked opponent.

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

And without Boots, too.

Keve Aluma played ANGRY. After every made basket, and there were many, he looked pissed on his way up the court.

If we get "Angry Aluma" more consistently, we are going to be a great team. There have been times this season where he has played "too soft" in my opinion, but he was the toughest one out there last night.

Really curious to see what the Pollsters think of us tomorrow. How can we not leap UVA?

I said it in the FAM thread. Coach MY is such a breath of fresh air for this program. I never felt like this game (or any other) is out of reach. Look at his response to the Radford situation. How can you not play your nuts off for a coach like him?

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

Honestly, I would expect not. UVa still narrowly has the better overall and ACC records. But I suspect we will jump several spots between the big win and several other ranked teams falling.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jet Sweep

UVA is 11-3

VT is 13-3

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

Also We have the better wins

Tears in my eyes
Chasing Ponce de Leon's phantoms
So filled with hope
I can taste mythical fountains
False hope, perhaps
But the truth never got in my way
Before now, feel the sting
Feeling time bearing down

But two of their losses were to VT and Gonzaga. So those are better losses.

San Francisco is 4-4. That can't be a good loss.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

Our losses are to a 6-7 Penn State, a 10-4 Louisville, and a 10-5 Syracuse. Combined 26-16

UVA: 10-8 San Francisco, 13-3 VT, 17-0 Gonzaga. Combined 40-11.

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

But if you look at NET rankings, and quadrants, its not as clear:

VT losses:

Penn State - Net 29, at home - Quadrant 1
Louisville - Net 45 - Road - Quadrant 1
Syracuse - Net 51 - Quadrant 1

LOLUVa:

Gonzaga - Net 2, Neutral - Quadrant 1
VT - Net 31 - Quadrant 1
San Francisco - Net 82 - Neutral- Quadrant 2

The only Quadrant 1 win LOLUVa has is Clemson - net 59 on the road

VT has 2 quadrant 1 wins, Villanova, Net 7, Neutral court, and LOLUVa - Net 8 at home.

I don't understand how Penn State is a Quad 1, when they have a losing record.

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

They in the top 30 of net because they beat us Rutgers and Wisconsin

Tears in my eyes
Chasing Ponce de Leon's phantoms
So filled with hope
I can taste mythical fountains
False hope, perhaps
But the truth never got in my way
Before now, feel the sting
Feeling time bearing down

Seems like circular logic when you break it down lol. "Hey PSU isn't a bad loss, they beat us after all".

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jet Sweep

Are you new to sports arguments? /s

Surely VT beating Clemson is also a quadrant 1 win?

Clemson has fallen apart unfortunately.

Insert obligatory "you hate to see it " gif

VTCC '86 Delta Company, Hokie in Peru, Former Naval Aviator, Former FBISA, Forever married to my VT87 girl. Go VT!

Damn. I had no idea Penn State sucked that bad this year (not just in football).

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

hmm well I stand corrected. I guess I had that in my mind since UVa was ranked so much higher and with how much the announcers were hyping them up. My gut still says UVa still ends up being ranked ahead of us by 1-2 spots but we'll see.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jet Sweep

I am expecting us to be 12 or 13 considering 10 teams in front of us lost this week, UVA 14 or 15 in the AP. Oklahoma will probably jump ahead of us after a week with two Top Ten wins, giving them four Top Ten wins in January.

Computer poll jump is what I am more interested in to see if we are finally in the top 30.

We eked in at #29 in Kenpom. Still not quite there in NET Rankings at #31

Bigger win than the Villanova game IMO. Also a big confidence booster to come back from down 10 in the second half.

I am not sure what to do with my hands now

15 POINTS!

This is going to be great for the ACC.

hey were hungry and gritty, and I didn't feel like we answered that."

Now finish up them taters; I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters.

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74