• David Cunningham

Hokies Stun No. 3 Villanova; Once Again, Young Looks Like the Right Fit

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - When Virginia Tech faced No. 3 Michigan State in Maui in Mike Young’s inaugural season, few knew what to expect. The Hokies shocked the college basketball world, knocking off the Spartans 71-66 on Nov. 25, 2019.


On Nov. 28, 2020, Young & Co. did it again, upsetting No. 3 Villanova 81-73 at the Mohegan Sun.


“I’m happy with our team and their toughness,” Young said after Tech’s second win over an AP Top-3 program in his two years at the helm. “I thought we guarded so very well throughout and we found a way to win.”


This felt like a game Young had been preparing for since he arrived in April of 2019. Defying a projected last placed finish in the ACC, Tech finished 16-16, 7-13 in the ACC in 2019-20 and Young knew his group needed more experience and size. He addressed both weaknesses in the offseason, making splashes on the recruiting trail and in the transfer market.


The Hokies ran past Radford to open the 2020-21 season on Wednesday before learning that Saturday’s game against Temple was called off due to COVID-19 positives in the Owls’ program. Later that evening, it was reported that No. 3 Villanova was looking for an extra game in Uncasville, Conn., before heading back to Philadelphia.


At 1:45 a.m. on Friday morning, it was official: Virginia Tech and Villanova would face off at 8 p.m. on Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun. It was just another example of Young showing, yet again, that he wants to play and compete with the best of the best.


From the opening tip at 8:15 p.m., the Hokies were competitive. Though Villanova guard Collin Gillespie, a potential NBA prospect, lit Tech up in the first half, scoring 18 of Nova's 29 first half points, the Hokies hung around.


Hunter Cattoor drew two charges. Tyrece Radford, known 6’1” rebounder, grabbed 13 boards. Despite Wabissa Bede and Justyn Mutts in foul trouble and Tech without two options in John Ojiako (knee) and Jalen Cone sitting on the sideline as a precaution, the Hokies trudged on. They put their head down and went to work.


After shooting 52% in the first half and holding the Wildcats to 38.5% from the field, the roles flipped in the second half. Villanova led by as many as 12 with 8:48 to play after a 20-6 run that was just under eight minutes. It appeared that the Hokies were out - until they weren’t.


Cue Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive.


Tech proceeded to embark on a 11-4 run of its own, slowly gathering momentum along the way, sparked by treys from Nahiem Alleyne, Keve Aluma and Mutts. From there, it was as back and forth as a ping pong match - each team with a chance to serve and return.


With 1:44 left, Bede swung the momentum in Tech’s favor one final time. With the Hokies trailing 60-56, the veteran from North Andover, Mass., playing less than 90 minutes from his hometown, answered with a triple from the top of the key to cut Tech’s deficit to one.


With 27.7 seconds to play, Bede slipped while diving for a loose ball and got called for a foul on Jermaine Samuels, his fifth. Cartier Diarra, the transfer from Kansas State, helped Tech close out the game, bringing the Hokies within one, 62-61, with 12 seconds to play.


Diarra fouled on the ensuing inbound and Villanova’s Justin Moore missed the front end of a one-and-one. Tech pushed the pace and with 1.3 to play, Aluma, who finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, squeezed in a layup while getting fouled. He banked in the free throw to give the Hokies the 64-62 lead.


Villanova head coach Jay Wright drew up a play for the Wildcats which required Justin Moore to set a screen on Tech’s Justyn Mutts, who was guarding the inbounder. The referees called an illegal screen on Moore before explaining that the foul was called on Mutts, just signaled wrong.


Bedlam.


Moore sank two free throws to send the game to overtime. It was all Hokies from there, though, as Tech outscored Villanova 17-9 in the five-minute period.


Even when the lead was in jeopardy (Tech led by four with 27 seconds to play), Cattoor, fresh off the bench after not playing in the second half, sank two free throws after replacing the fouled-out Diarra to ice the game.


“I would rather that [Bede and Diarra fouling out] didn’t happen, but I’m very comfortable,” Young said. “I think you better always have two-and-a-half point guards, and Hunter Cattoor can slide back there... You’ve got to step to the plate and do his thing, and he did. I’m proud of that.”


Virginia Tech (2-0) held off Villanova (2-1) for its sixth win over an AP Top-5 team in the last five seasons. That achievement is only shared by college basketball blue bloods Duke, North Carolina and Kansas.


Sure, Tech is 6-5 in that span, falling to Duke and Virginia twice and Florida State once, and yes, four of the six wins belong to Buzz Williams, but that’s not the point. What Mike Young has been able to do in a season and two games - post a 2-5 record against ranked opponents and knock off No. 3 twice - is the important part.


While Williams rejuvenated a Virginia Tech basketball program that hadn’t seen the light of day since 1996, Young is turning the program into a contender.


He’s done it with style, too, as his squad outrebounded the Wildcats 40-31 and shot better (47.4 to 42.6 percent) on Saturday night.


I’m no fortune teller, and no, rising to the top is not going to happen in an instant, but Young has been around the game and seen it all. He knows what it takes to be a contender. He’s brought in the right staff and has recruited the right kind of guys.


He seems to have the Hokies on the right path.


My sister, a freshman at Virginia Tech, texted me after the game and said, “we may not be a football school, but at least we’re a basketball school.”


Mike Young has Cassell Guard bought in, and it isn’t just them. The players, staff and other fans seem to feel the same way. Maybe it’s because his vibes are similar to that of Fancy Gap’s own Frank Beamer - I can’t fault Tech fans for loving his SWVA charm.


For a hire questioned by so many back in April of 2019, Young seems to be the right fit.


“We came in here with a plan, but it’s up to them to believe, fight, and hang in there, and find a way to win… It’s a huge win for us. I’m happy for our team.”


Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

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