BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech played one of its better games of the season, but in-state rival Virginia made big plays down the stretch, and the Cavaliers escaped with a 57-53 victory over the Hokies in an ACC game Tuesday night at Cassell Coliseum.
Tech fell to 9-16 overall on the season and 2-11 in ACC play, and the Hokies lost to the Cavaliers for the fifth straight time. Virginia, ranked 14th in The Associated Press poll, moved to 22-5 overall, 13-1 in the ACC.
“We played well enough to win that game,” Tech coach James Johnson said. “But we didn’t make the plays down the stretch that you need to make against a good team like that, and they made the plays. Against a good team, you’ve got to play 40 minutes, or however long it takes.
“They [the Cavaliers] keep coming at you and coming at you, and they’re used to winning. That helps when you’re coming down the stretch in a close game. They’re used to winning and used to making plays. They’ve got guys who can make plays. We should have had that one, but give them a lot of credit. They made the plays, and we didn’t.”
Tech led 43-35 after Ben Emelogu hit a 3-pointer with 10:14 remaining in the game. But the Hokies hit just one basket over the next nine minutes, and during a seven-minute stretch, they scored just one point.
That allowed UVa to rally, and the Cavaliers took advantage by hitting three consecutive 3-pointers. The Cavaliers closed the gap to 46-45 on a 3-pointer by Justin Anderson with 3:27 left, and after Joey van Zegeren turned the ball over for the Hokies, the Cavaliers grabbed 48-46 lead when Joe Harris drained a long 3-pointer with 2:40 to go.
UVa did not trail again. Emelogu missed a 3-pointer on the Hokies’ next possession, and Anderson made them pay, hitting another 3-pointer with 1:45 left that gave UVa a 51-46 bulge.
Anderson came into the game shooting just 21.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in ACC games. He hit 2 of 6 from beyond the arc against the Hokies and scored nine points in the game – all in the final four minutes.
“We wanted someone else to make plays, and one thing about Anderson, he’s a confident kid,” Johnson said. “He’s one of those guys who will miss three or miss four and then come back down and make the next one, and it’ll be a big play. You have to give him credit. We didn’t give him wide open shots. We were there, but our concentration was more on [Malcolm] Brogdon and Harris. But he made some big plays down the stretch. Those two 3’s were huge, and he’s that type of player.”
“I wouldn’t say we were surprised, but you can’t leave a player of his caliber on that type of team wide open like that,” Tech guard Devin Wilson said. “He’s going to make that nine out of 10 times with the player that he is, so hat’s off to Anderson. He made some good shots.”
The Hokies cut UVa’s lead to 56-53 on a follow-up basket by van Zegeren with 7 seconds left. They then fouled Brogdon, hoping he would miss two free throws and give them a chance to tie. But he made the second one to push the UVa lead to four points and seal the game.
Tech played outstanding defense against UVa, holding Harris and Brogdon to a combined 5 of 21 from the floor. Brogdon scored 12 points to lead the Cavaliers, who shot just 39.2 percent from the floor, while Harris only scored 7.
Tech shot 44.2 percent against the nation’s eighth-best field-goal percentage defense, and the Hokies out-rebounded UVa 29-28. But they turned the ball over 14 times, and UVa scored 18 points off turnovers.
Wilson scored 13 points for the Hokies and dished out five assists. Van Zegeren added a career-high 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
After four straight losses by 20 points or more, the Hokies have played three straight close games, winning one, losing one in double overtime and losing to the Cavaliers by four points.
“I think we’re executing the game plan,” Johnson said. “We’re doing what we have to do to put ourselves in position to win games. We’re in position. Now we’ve got to find a way to win them. We can’t keep letting them slip away. We can’t keep saying we’re close. That’s not why we work hard and practice. We work hard to win.”
Tech’s next chance at a win comes Saturday when it takes on NC State at Cassell Coliseum. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m.
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