BLACKSBURG, Va. — Among the most resilient road teams in the ACC recently, Virginia on Wednesday night traveled to one of the few arenas that has proved treacherous for the Cavaliers over the past several seasons.
This time, eighth-ranked Virginia made certain it would depart Cassell Coliseum without any late-game drama, thumping Virginia Tech, 78-52, behind its typically stifling defense, plus attentive ball security and balanced scoring.
“It always feels good to be able to come into your rival’s house and get a good win like that,” Cavaliers senior guard Devon Hall said following the largest margin of victory in the series since 1955. “This is a tough place to play when they get it going and get the crowd behind them.”
De’Andre Hunter led the way with 14 points to help Virginia win its fifth in a row. The Cavaliers (13-1, 2-0), in their ACC road opener, limited their in-state rival to 2-for-12 shooting on three-pointers and forced 16 turnovers that led to 23 points.
Virginia Tech (11-4, 0-2) came into the game sixth nationally in three-point shooting percentage (42.7) and first in field goal percentage (53.2). The Hokies shot 36.2 percent against Virginia, one game after they shot 34.6 percent in a loss to Syracuse in their ACC opener on New Year’s Eve.
The Hokies had beaten Virginia in the teams’ past two games at Cassell Coliseum, including last season’s meeting here, 80-78, in double overtime. The only other road venue where Virginia has lost twice since 2014 is Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Virginia all but secured the outcome in this one thanks to 15 consecutive points midway through the second half. Included in the run that delivered a 63-35 lead were three three-pointers, that second of which came from starting guard Ty Jerome, who finished with 13 points and five assists.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore was playing at Cassell for the first time since missing the front end of a one-and-one with nine seconds left in regulation last season that could have clinched a victory.
“We didn’t mention that,” said Jerome, one game removed from a career-high 31 points in a 59-58 win against Boston College in Saturday’s ACC opener. “Our leaders did a great job of just saying we’ve got to compete every play, even when we were up 25 or 30. We didn’t want to let up at all.”
Starting guard Kyle Guy added 13 points as Virginia shot 49.2 percent, made 12 of 25 three-pointers and committed just six turnovers.
Starting forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. led Virginia Tech with 14 points. Starting guard Justin Robinson (12 points) was the only other Hokies player to reach double figures in Virginia Tech’s most lopsided loss this season.
Foul trouble forced Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett to go to his bench in the first few minutes of the second half. Forward Isaiah Wilkins and center Jack Salt both picked up their third personals within 30 seconds of each other, and after Mamadi Diakite’s layup expanded the lead to 41-27, the reserve forward also was assessed a third foul.
Bennett elected to pull Wilkins and Diakite, keep Salt on the floor and insert Hunter. The redshirt freshman contributed almost immediately, swishing a three-pointer and getting a turnaround jumper to fall for a 48-33 lead.
Bennett’s decision to keep Salt in the lineup paid dividends, too. The 6-10 redshirt junior from New Zealand blocked back-to-back shots on players who had driven deep in the painted area. After the second of those blocks, Guy scored on a fast-break layup for a 50-35 buffer, with Bennett calling a timeout seconds later.
An 11-3 burst late in the first half delivered the Cavaliers a 35-20 lead with 1:40 to go. Diakite, a redshirt sophomore, got it going with a dunk, and Guy made a three-pointer to bump the cushion back to 10. On Virginia’s next possession, Hall collected an offensive rebound and scored on a layup.
Blackshear made 1 of 2 free throws for Virginia Tech, which labored to find clean looks from the three-point line in the first half as Virginia made a point to defend the arc with vigor.
Virginia Tech made just two three-pointers in the first half, the latter from Blackshear bringing the Hokies within 35-23 with 1:23 to play. The redshirt sophomore forward entered with four three-pointers this season, by far the fewest among Virginia Tech’s top five scorers.
Much like in his previous game, Jerome had little regard for the college three-point line in the first half, making his first two from well beyond the arc during a surge that pushed the Cavaliers to an 18-8 advantage. Jerome scored or assisted on 13 points in that time.
“We played real solid,” said Bennett, who revealed the loud cheer from the locker room after the game wasn’t celebrating the win as much as the announcement that walk-on Justice Bartley had been awarded a scholarship. “It was a little bit of a perfect storm. They were a little off, but we played good basketball.”