Still, Virginia Tech preached only measured optimism about what its first road victory over a ranked opponent since February 2009 means for its long-term prognosis.
“It was basically two teams that were drawing a line in the sand and not giving an inch,” Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg said. “To me, that’s who we have been, and obviously we have not been that as much as I would like.
“But when you’re asking young players to do it for the first time and asking guys to change their roles, it doesn’t mean we have it fixed, but we have a baseline to go back to our guys and say: ‘All right, this is who we need to be. This is who we have always been.’ ”
Likewise, the Cavaliers (15-3, 2-2) were cautious about assigning too much significance to a horrid offensive performance. This is who they often have been, as well. Virginia — which on Sunday held an opponent to fewer than 50 points for the eighth time this season — made 1 of 14 three-point attempts, fewer than two-thirds of its free throws and less than 44 percent of its shots from inside the three-point arc.
Virginia Coach Tony Bennett sarcastically described his team’s shooting performance as “the hat trick” and said that to call the Cavaliers’ offensive efforts cold “might be an understatement.”
And yet, Virginia was still within three points after Hudson backed freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon into the paint and scored a contested basket with just more than one minute to play. This was the downside to the Cavaliers’ decision early in the second half to switch to a four-guard lineup.
The move paid offensive dividends by giving Virginia’s guards more room to penetrate into the lane. The Cavaliers erased a seven-point Virginia Tech led by one with just more than two minutes remaining.
But Virginia struggled defensively to match up with some of the Hokies, particularly Hudson, who at 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds simply was too strong for Brogdon, a freshman, and fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski (6-1, 184 pounds) to handle in the post. Hudson finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
“We got shots, and we just missed ’em,” said fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott, who recorded 10 points. “We’ve just got to keep taking those shots.”
Three Cavaliers scored in double figures, but none tallied more than 10 points. Scott, the team’s leading scorer, managed two shot attempts in the second half thanks to aggressive double-teams from the Hokies.
But that’s not a new strategy against Scott. Virginia’s foes have been devoting extra attention to him all season. But Sunday was yet another instance in which the Cavaliers could provide him little in the way of offensive relief. Virginia shot a season-low 32.6 percent from the field.
With 16.5 seconds remaining, Hudson scored a three-pointer from the corner to put the Hokies up by four and all but seal Virginia Tech’s lowest-scoring victory since February 1997.
“They hit some tough shots,” Virginia junior guard Jontel Evans said. “Our defense was there; they just hit a lot of tough shots. . . . Not being able to make shots on the offensive end is what hurt us.”