BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia couldn’t hit from outside. Senior Joe Harris couldn’t hit a shot at all. A boisterous crowd at Cassell Coliseum could sense a vulnerable in-state rival as the home team hit timely buckets. It looked like last-place Virginia Tech might just pull off a stunner.
But when it mattered most, Harris was ready to shoot again and sophomore Justin Anderson quieted the hostile fans.
No. 14 Virginia escaped with a 57-53 win against the Hokies on Tuesday night, using a spirited comeback led by Harris and Anderson to extend its win streak to 10.
The duo proved clutch down the stretch after going scoreless in the game’s first 30 minutes, combining to hit three straight three-pointers to spearhead a late Virginia surge after Virginia Tech held a 46-42 advantage.
Harris (7 points on 2 of 10 shooting) stepped into an NBA range three-pointer with 2 minutes 39 seconds to go to give Virginia its first lead since the score was 14-13. Anderson, 1 for his last 20 from three-point range, scored all nine of his points in the final four minutes and capped off the evening with a thunderous alley oop from guard Malcolm Brogdon (12 points) with 25 seconds left.
“It’s no better feeling when you hit those shots and everybody goes shush and all you hear is the people behind your bench going crazy for U-Va,” Anderson said.
The victory gives Virginia (22-5, 13-1) 13 ACC wins for just the second time in program history, and guarantees the Cavaliers a top-four seed and a double bye into the quarterfinals of next month’s ACC tournament. In winning a school-record seventh road game in league play, Virginia also matched the conference start of the 1980-81 team that went to the Final Four.
The Cavaliers have beaten the Hokies (9-16, 2-11) in five straight meetings, and seven of the past eight times the two teams have met.
“We really wanted this one and we knew we had it,” said Virginia Tech center Joey van Zegeren, who tied point guard Devin Wilson with a team-high 13 points. “We let it slip out of our hands and that was very frustrating for all of us.”
Facing Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson’s new 2-3 zone, the Cavaliers missed nine straight three-pointers in the first half en route to a 9-of-25 performance from beyond the arc for the game. Virginia Tech, which hadn’t shot better than 37 percent from the field in its previous seven games, came out hot and led by double digits during one of its best halves of the season.
The Hokies then started the second half by navigating Virginia’s surges with both luck and skill.
When the Cavaliers drew to within three early in the second half, freshman Ben Emelogu nailed one-three-pointer and then hit nothing but backboard on another desperation attempt. Except the ball landed in van Zegeren’s hands and the subsequent three-point play sparked a 10-2 run that upped Virginia Tech’s lead to 40-29.
The Cavaliers answered again with a 13-3 burst, highlighted by five consecutive points from point guard London Perrantes (11 points) and Harris’s first basket of the game — a three-pointer with 9:50 remaining.
A memorable sequence came once Brogdon forced an Emelogu turnover and dove on the floor to grab the loose ball. After he couldn’t corral it, several players from both teams laid out on the court and a packed Virginia Tech student section roared its approval.
The ball was ultimately awarded to the Cavaliers after it rolled out of bounds. Brogdon then promptly hit a three-pointer and a Harris free throw cut Virginia’s deficit to 43-42 with just more than eight minutes remaining.
“It was just one of those games where you had to gut it out,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “I feel like we stole one because they probably outplayed us most of the game.”