Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Virginia picked up its first ACC road win of the year, shooting the lights out and rolling to a 74-58 victory against the rival Hokies
For the third straight season, Tony Bennett took the Virginia Cavaliers to Cassel Colosseum and left victorious, as the Hoos finally picked up an ACC win on the road. The Hoos used a 24-2 first half run to pull away against a disinterested Virginia Tech defense and never looked back. With the win, UVA improves to 13-5 (3-2), while the Hokies drop to 11-7 (2-3).
The Hoos got off to a slow start, falling behind 17-10 ten minutes into the game, as an energized Hokie team had initial success defending a stagnant Wahoo offense. However, the tide quickly turned behind a barrage of Wahoo three-pointers. The team's run included 6 of their 8 first-half threes, as Virginia adjusted to a Hokie defense focused on the interior (and the Hokies regressed to their putrid season average defense). The Hoos finished with a season-high 11 three-pointers on 18 attempts (47.8%).
The sharp-shooting Evan Nolte had a big night, nailing 5 of 9 three-pointers on his way to a career-high 18 points, while also grabbing 4 steals. Joe Harris added 4 more threes, scoring 17 on 6 of 9 overall shooting. Mike Tobey was also notably efficient, scoring 10 points by hitting all 5 shots that he took.
Despite Virginia's strong overall shooting display (51% from the field) and the lopsided final score, VT senior Erick Green's offensive effort often stole the show. He led an otherwise listless Hokie team with 35 points on 11-18 shooting. Green was in a league of his own, playing 38 minutes and taking every shot he saw, open or not. He also appeared to be playing a game of his own, as Green had an awful lot to say while facing a large deficit, demonstrating his similarities to former Hokie Malcolm Delaney in more ways than one.
Jontel Evans took on the lion's share of the responsibility of guarding Green, and did a largely admirable job; Justin Anderson's height seemed to bother Green slightly more, while Doug Browman looked overmatched in his time. Regardless, he found his shots and led a fairly strong Hokie offensive effort, scoring 58 points in 59 possessions against UVA's vaunted defense.
However, Virginia Tech continued their struggles on defense, where they entered the game ranked 254th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency; in the last ten years, 2011 Wake Forest was the only ACC squad ranked lower to end a year. The Hokies made no effort to contest most of Virginia's 11 three-pointers and forced just 6 turnovers. After UVA failed to shoot a free-throw in the first half, a gassed VT squad found themselves consistently reaching and out of possession in a second half during which the Hoos got to the line 18 times (making just 11).
UVA put away any chance of a late-game Hokie comeback by displaying a rare knack for scoring in transition. The team didn't just break the VT press, but went to the basket and scored. Anderson, who finished a solid game on both sides of the ball with 11 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals, particularly enjoyed some theatrics that were unlikely to be a Coach Bennett highlight. Though Tech seemed disinterested in defending after a successful inbounds pass, the ability to score after the press-break was a welcome sight for Wahoo fans not used to seeing opponents pay for pressing.
VT's defensive focus on the interior and inability to stay with their men for a full possession encouraged UVA to shoot three-pointers; this was a recipe for disaster against a Wahoo team that has been inefficiently allocating long-range shots. Coming into the game, Virginia was ranked 18th in the nation in 3PT% (38.9%), but just 286th in 3PA/FGA (28.3% of shots coming from behind the arc). One of the team's primary offensive strengths is the strong shooting of Harris and Nolte, and the Hokie defensive game-plan and Wahoo offensive execution allowed them to shine.
UVA doesn't have much time to enjoy the rivalry game win. Tip-off against Boston College comes just 39 hours after the conclusion of the victory in Blacksburg, a fact not lost on Tony Bennett. The Hoos have just hours to rest up, study up, and take on a pesky Golden Eagle squad that is 1-4 in the ACC, but have lost those games by an average of just 3.5 points (including a one-point loss to Miami). Luckily, the team will have an opportunity to feed off the home crowd at JPJ. That game, broadcast on ESPN 3, begins Saturday at 1 PM.