Virginia Tech, at 14-1 with a ranking in the Associated Press top 20, seemed a credible challenger to Virginia's longtime status as the No. 1 college basketball team in the Old Dominion.
The young Hokies hung close for 10 minutes tonight, then their inexperience betrayed them as Virginia pulled away and breezed to a 74-64 victory, its 29th straight against state foes.
The final spread was not indicative of the difference between the clubs. Virginia had a 72-51 lead when it poured in the substitutes with five minutes remaining.
Jim Miller led the Cavaliers with 18 points, 15 in the second half, and nine rebounds. An ailing Ralph Sampson collected 12 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots in 21 minutes.
"It just started; when I find out what's wrong I'll let you know," Sampson said.
"He's totally exhausted," said Coach Terry Holland. "He has a touch of flu, his knee hurts and had to be drained today, he just doesn't feel good. I said, 'Don't play if you don't feel good.' But he insisted he felt fine."
The man who broke the game open was Ricky Stokes, at 5-foot-10 the smallest player on the court. After the Hokies had grabbed a 20-18 lead midway through the first half against Virginia's man to man, Stokes took over. He led a pressure defense that induced Tech to take poor shots and at the other end he drove inside with startling results.
Stokes scored seven points, five from the free-throw line, as the Cavaliers reeled off 12 straight for a 30-20 lead. Twice he was fouled by 6-9 Bobby Beecher, who had guarded Sampson for 10 minutes without drawing any.
"When I come in, it's usually to change something, to change the defense and create something," Stokes said. "We wanted to keep the ball moving, to pass and cut. I'm glad we were successful. It's nice not to go down to the wire or have to come from behind."
"He comes off the bench and picks up a team as well as anyone I've ever seen," Holland said. "He's done it so many times. He gives us a lift both offensively and defensively."
The Hokies, who started three freshmen and two sophomores, climbed within six at 43-37 early in the second half, as Dell Curry netted five points in a row, including three of the four free throws Tech managed in the game.
But Virginia's Tim Mullen sank a jump shot and two free throws, then Miller scored from underneath and added a foul shot. It was 50-37 and Tech was not within 10 points again until only nine seconds remained.
Tech, a 54 percent shooting team on the season, connected on only 30 for 80 tonight, with meager 13 of 39 production in the first half.
"I think we were intimidated by their height inside," said Tech Coach Charles Moir. "We were probably too aware of Ralph Sampson. We took some questionable perimeter shots in the first half. We put up some pro shots and some of them didn't even hit the iron."
Virginia sank 24 of 35 free throws, 13 of 17 in the first half. Tech was four for six, not going to the line until the game's 23rd minute.