Traveling to Atlanta a week after a heartbreaking loss to Duke, the Hoos were at a crossroads. Would they build a losing streak by dropping a tough road game? Or would they take care of business against an inferior ACC opponent? Clearly, it was the latter. Fifteenth-ranked UVA (15-2, 2-1 ACC) took an early lead and never looked back, crushing the Yellow Jackets (8-10, 1-3 ACC) by 32 points in Philips Arena.
While Georgia Tech will be nowhere close to the top of the pack in the ACC, the Hoos don't have the margin for error to take these games for granted. All ACC road games are dangerous, and GT has shown some bright spots, including an 11 point victory against NC State in Raleigh last week. The importance of the win cannot be understated, and the margin of victory was especially impressive. To put it in perspective, UVA hasn't won by so much against an ACC opponent since 1991, and hasn't done it on the road since 1983.
After scoring just 2 points in the first 17 minutes of the game, Mike Scott led the way with 18 points on 7-13 shooting. Joe Harris was probably the player of the game, scoring 16 on 7-10 shooting; his ability to drive to the hoop or shoot from any point on the court makes him a really tough man to cover. The last cog of Virginia's "Big Three," Sammy Zeglinski, recovered from his cold shooting against Duke, nailing two threes after missing on a few early ones.
Not all results from the game were positive. Just before halftime, Assane Sene jumped for a block but landed badly on his ankle. He re-emerged from the locker room with his foot heavily wrapped and did not play again. After the game, Sene explained that he twisted his ankle on the way down, and optimistically hoped to play against Virginia Tech on Sunday. However, Tony Bennett was unsure of the severity of the injury, and Sene's status is still unknown. Needless to say, losing the 7-footer for any substantial amount of time would hurt; he is a force on defense, and, after James Johnson's transfer, our front-court depth is shaky.
If it weren't obvious from glancing at the score, the defense played well and was aided by poor shooting by the inexperienced Yellow Jackets. Tech took plenty of contested shots, finishing just 29% from the floor and 1 of 15 from behind the arc. Some tight second half officiating was needed to aid the team to 38 points (They reached the bonus just 6 minutes in). Georgia Tech became the third team this season to fail to reach 40 points against the Pack Line defense after SC State and Drexel were victimized earlier in the year.
Especially since the game came after a tough loss, following a week off, against a middling team, and in a giant empty arena, one big positive to take away was the amount of effort expended. Schemes are an important part of defense, but any system is powerless without effort, and holding an ACC team below 40 is a testament to that focus. Additionally, the Hoos killed Georgia Tech on the boards. UVA grabbed offensive rebounds on 12 out of their 29 missed shots, or 41%; on the other hand, GT had 5 offensive rebounds out in 38 chances, a miserable 13%. These rebounds led to 15 second chance points, and contributed to the team's 30 total points in the paint.
With Virginia's first ACC road win in the books, a much-anticipated rivalry game against the Hokies looms. After a solid 11-3 start, much to the glee of Wahoo fans, Virginia Tech has stumbled to 0-4 in the ACC, including losses to bottom feeders Wake Forest and Boston College. As badly as the Hoos would like to defeat their counterparts from Blacksburg, Tech will desperately be trying to avoid another ACC loss (assuming they still care to play hard for embattled head coach Seth Greenberg).
While Virginia will be a clear favorite, Virginia Tech is a good young team that cannot be counted out. A particular area of interest will be three-point shooting. The Hokies allow just 26.3% shooting behind the arc, good for fourth in the nation, with UVA's 25.7% defense coming in at second. However, both teams have strong perimeter shooting, which Virginia Tech demonstrated while hitting 13 three-balls in 31 attempts against UNC. While there is uncertainty about which Tech team will decide to take the court (and on Assane Sene's status), what we do know is that John Paul Jones Arena will be rocking when the team returns home Sunday at 6 PM.