Virginia’s defense suffocates Hokies for most lopsided loss in series since 1955

By Jerry Ratcliffe

UVA’s Kihei Clark drives around Tech’s Wabissa Bede (Photo by John Markon).

Saturday was not exactly what new Virginia Tech coach Mike Young had envisioned about his first trip to John Paul Jones Arena with his Hokies basketball team.

No. 19-ranked Virginia was a little nervous about hosting its state rival, which came to Charlottesville with 10 wins, including an upset over 14th-ranked Michigan State, on its resume. It didn’t take long for the Cavaliers to flex their muscles en route to a 65-39 rout of Tech.

The win elevated UVA to 11-2, and more importantly 3-0 in the ACC, while the Hokies dropped to 10-4, 1-2 in the league. When Young was asked if opening the conference gauntlet against Duke and Virginia (the only teams without an ACC loss) with such a young roster might benefit his team, the league’s newest coach didn’t hesitate.

“Hell no,” Young replied instantly to a press room full of laughter over his response. “Good lord. That’s the league. We’ll get out of here and in 48 hours head to Syracuse. That’s ACC basketball. That’s the league. That’s what we have in front of us. We’ve got to play better. I could have drawn up a better schedule.”

As Young would say later in his postgame media chat, “Today was a tough day for all of us,” alluding to his coaching staff and the team.

Saturday’s UVA win was the most lopsided in the rivalry with Tech since 1955, when those Cavaliers won by 48 (107-59), back in the days of Buzzy Wilkinson.

Meanwhile, it was somewhat of a banner day for Tony Bennett’s team, coming off a sluggish performance against a mediocre Navy team last weekend. Saturday’s Cavaliers obviously played with more hunger and more of a point to prove.

It was UVA’s third consecutive win over Tech (8 of the last 11 in the Wahoos’ favor), and the the fifth opponent the Cavaliers have held to less than 30-percent shooting (27.1). Bennett’s defensive-driven team, which leads college basketball in holding opponents to less than 50 points, claimed its ninth such victim.

The Hokies came into the weekend as one of the ACC’s hottest shooting teams from the 3-point line and with a solid handle on the basketball.

“Probably not now,” Young bemoaned afterward.

Probably not.

It was difficult for the Hokies to get much of anything going against Virginia’s smothering defense. The Cavaliers even forced Tech into two rare turnovers in a 5-second inbounding violation and a 10-second backcourt violation.

“Oh for God’s sakes,” Young said when those particular miscues came up. “It’s hard [to initiate anything against UVA’s defense]. I couldn’t tell you the last time [that happened to one of his teams]. It’s embarrassing.”

Young was also upset about having six turnovers in the first 14 minutes of the game.

“We are averaging nine-and-a-half [turnovers], third in the country,” Young said. “When you kick the thing around and play sloppy basketball it drives me insane. Six assists and 13 turnovers, that’s all messed up. Not Virginia Tech numbers.”

UVA’s defense clamped down on Tech’s perimeter game as the Hokies converted only 4 of 25 shots (16 percent) from behind the arc. Tech also committed 13 turnovers, and generally shot poorly against Bennett’s “Pack-Line” defense (13 of 48, 27 percent).

Part of the Cavaliers’ strategy, as usual, was getting back on defense and not giving up any cheap baskets. Tech only had five fast-break points.

“It’s awareness,” Bennett said. “Tech’s releases are so quick on a number of their players, and their percentages don’t lie. You watch what they did to a very good Michigan State team and watching them in their last game (against Maryland Eastern Shore), it’s just being back and being as ready as you can. It’s not just about being there, it’s about how quick you’re there with your hands to close the space they have.”

Freshman Landers Nolley II kept the Hokies alive in the first half, scoring 15 of Tech’s 17 points (UVA led 30-17 at the break). The Cavaliers focused on stopping one of the ACC’s most efficient rookies in the second half, mainly by putting defensive pit bull Braxton Key on the job.

After hitting 6 of 10 shots in the first half, Nolley got off only six attempts in the second half and made only one, a meaningless 3-pointer with less than four minutes to play.

“Really it was just team defense,” said a modest Key. “I thought in the first half, he got a lot of looks. Some of them were contested, but some looks weren’t, so we know he’s a capable player and that he can score the ball really well.”

To prepare for Nolley leading up to the game, Key went against 6-foot-8 forward Sam Hauser, the transfer from Marquette (sitting out this season) in practice. Nolley, at 6-7, is built like Hauser, so it was a good warm up.

“I was able to contest a few more shots trying to make it a little more difficult for [Nolley],” Key said.

Meanwhile, Tech had no answer for Key (18 points, 10 rebounds) or teammate Kihei Clark, UVA’s point guard, who had a career-high 18 points and six assists.

Key, playing with only a splint on his injured wrist, said afterward he was much more comfortable than with the previous casts.

“Today, for the first time, he went to a more streamlined splint with padding around it,” Bennett said. “Even more mobility, dexterity. It’s just a process that you get more and more used to it.”

Young knew that Key would be a challenge.

“He’s a really good player and what Braxton does for them is they can use him at the four (power forward),” Young said. “They’re going to play [6-9 Mamadi] Diakite on [6-6 P.J.] Horne. Then [7-1 Jay] Huff comes in, and they can move Diakite to the four and Braxton to the three. That’s a really big front line. His versatility aids them greatly and I thought he was awfully good today.” 

The Cavaliers, off to another good ACC start, travel to Boston College on Tuesday, then return home for a return engagement against Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse team, which UVA defeated 48-34 on the road earlier this season, the fewest points the Orange have scored at the Carrier Dome in the building’s history.


  1. Terry Corkery says:

    Check spelling in paragraph 5: should be alluding, not eluding

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