A.D. Vassallo scored 14 of Virginia Tech’s final 17 points and hit four clutch free throws in the final 10 seconds en route to a 29-point performance to lift the Hokies past in-state rival Virginia 78-75 in an ACC game played Saturday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg.
The win – the Hokies’ fifth in their past six games – marked Tech’s third straight over the Cavaliers and moved the Hokies to 10-5 overall on the season, 1-1 in the ACC. Tech also played its first home game since Dec. 14 and the Hokies moved to 5-1 at Cassell, all of which came just a few days after getting beat handily at Duke.
“It feels great. Now I don’t have to worry a bout Duke any more,” Vassallo said. “I can think, ‘Yeah, we beat Virginia in the last game.’ It was hard thinking about that every day. We got a good win and we were able to protect Cassell. That’s something we’ve got to do.
“You can’t afford to lose a home game,” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “You certainly can’t afford to lose a home game coming off the second half we had against Duke.”
Tech appeared to have this game under control when it used a 15-4 second-half run to take a 64-49 lead on Vassallo’s 3-point play with 5:23 remaining. But the Cavaliers used a barrage of 3-pointers from Mustapha Farrakhan to climb back in the game. Farrakhan hit four 3-pointers in the final 4:40 and was fouled on another 3-pointer, heading to the line and canning all three free throws.
Virginia cut the Tech lead to 72-70 with 49.7 seconds left on Farrakhan’s final 3-pointer. But on the Hokies’ next possession – coming out of a timeout – Vassallo nailed a short jumper over UVa’s Mamadi Diane with four seconds on the shot clock and 19 on the game clock to give the Hokies a 74-70 lead.
UVa’s Sylven Landesberg scored on a lay-up to cut the Tech lead to two with 10 ticks remaining. But Vassallo drained two free throws with nine seconds to go, and after a Jamil Tucker 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left cut the Hokie lead to 76-75, Vassallo nailed two more free three throws with 1.9 seconds remaining to make it 78-75. UVa’s Sammy Zeglinski attempted a three-quarters length shot at the buzzer that didn’t come close, and the Hokies prevailed.
“I’ve done that five or six times down in Puerto Rico before I got here [on club teams],” Vassallo said of his late-game free-throw shooting. “I’m a senior. That’s what I have to do. I have to knock big shots down. We work on that a lot. We shoot 100 free throws every practice to get ready for those moments, and I just stepped up there and did it.”
Vassallo finished with 29 points, just one short of his career high. He hit 9-of-14 from the floor and 10-of-12 from the free-throw line. Interestingly, he made just 1-of-2 from beyond the 3-point arc – normally a staple of his game.
“I got the ball in good spots and I was aggressive,” Vassallo said. “I knew I was going to get the ball in good spots and I had to make plays. I was able to post up and I was able to drive some. At the end of the game, I got to free-throw line and was able to knock them down.”
The Hokies also got 24 points from Malcolm Delaney, who hit 10-of-17 from the floor, including three 3-pointers. As a team, Tech hit 44.4 percent from the floor.
Landesberg led the Cavaliers with 20 points, hitting 7-of-11 from the floor and all six of his free-throw attempts. He also grabbed eight boards and dished out five assists, but turned the ball over six times. UVa, as a team, turned it over 17 times. Farrakhan had a career-high 17 points – 15 of those in the final five minutes of the game.
“I watch eight zillion games and every team takes bad shots and every team throws the ball away and every team makes a mistaken defensively,” Greenberg said. “In the end, the hardest-playing team wins at the end. It’s that plain and simple. That was my talk to the team before the game. You’re going to miss a shot, you’re going to miss a switch, you’re going to make a bad decision, but the hardest-playing team wins and we’ve got to get back to that.”
The Hokies play the second of a three-game homestand next Wednesday night when they take on Richmond in their final non-conference game of the season. Tip-off for that game is slated for 7 p.m.
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