Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
In the ACC, there are 15 teams, and on any given night, any of these teams will present a challenge. It could be the teams at the top, the middle of the pack, or even the losing teams. Nobody is safe.
In the case of the Virginia Tech Hokies, the ACC Tournament was a great place to make a statement. During the week, one loss could’ve meant a difference between an appearance in the NIT or an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But on a Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, they made history, beating Duke in the championship game, 82-67, winning their first conference title in program history.
Before playing Duke in the championship game, the Hokies came into the Tournament with a 20-12 record, and accumulated three wins, beating Clemson in overtime, 76-75, in the second round, beating Notre Dame, 87-80, in the quarterfinals and upsetting North Carolina, 72-59, in the semifinals, setting up the matchup against the Blue Devils, rated No. 7 in the AP national poll and the No. 1 seeded team in the tournament.
In just his third season, head coach Mike Young has continued to lead the Hokies to greater heights going from 16-16 in his first season, to 15-7 last season, to 23-12 this season. After 17 seasons, five NCAA Tournament appearances and two Southern Conference championships at Wofford, he has continued to work his magic at Virginia Tech.
On the roster are some talented players, such as senior forward and leading scorer, Keve Aluma (15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game), grad student and forward Justyn Mutts (10.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game), junior guard Hunter Cattoor (10 points per game), junior guard Nahiem Alleyene (9.8 points per game), graduate student and guard Storm Murphy (8.1 points per game), sophomore guard Darius Maddox (6.4 points per game), freshman guard Sean Pedulla (5 points per game) and sophomore guard David N’Guessan (3.7 points per game).
With that nucleus of players, there was definitely a possibility that they could win, even though the odds were stacked against them as they played against a legendary foe in the Blue Devils, who beat in the two teams’ previous matchup earlier this season, on Dec. 22nd at Cameron indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina by the score of 76-65.
But from the moment that the game started, that last loss mattered very little to the Hokies, as they were out to make a statement. Throughout the game, they fed the hot hand, Cattoor, who finished with 31 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the field and 7-for-9 shooting from three-point range. Aluma also contributed with 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. With those two leading the way, things ran smoothly against the Blue Devils, who struggled for a good portion of the game.
The Hokies went into halftime, leading 42-39, and in the second half, they continued their pressure defense, despite the good play of Duke’s All-American freshman forward Paolo Banchero (20 points) and sophomore center Mark Williams (11 points and six rebounds).
What helped aid the Hokies’ win in this championship game was the Blue Devils’ dismal performance from three-point range, shooting 20% throughout the game and then not having much depth, as they played mostly six players throughout all 40 minutes of the contest.
For the Hokies, they will be going dancing this month in March. All they needed was four games in Brooklyn to punch their ticket for the NCAA Tournament. However, they were four hard-fought wins. From here on out, it won’t be an easy road, depending on who they play in the Big Dance. But also, whoever they play will get a tough battle with the Hokies. As they showed tonight and throughout this week, it’s not the best team who wins, but the smartest and the team that outworks the other.
As a result, a banner was raised, a net was cut, orange confetti was thrown up in the air, and a championship was won. For the first time, the Hokies are able to say that they’re champions of the ACC.