Barclays Center—The last few games Virginia Tech has been playing like a team on a mission and something to prove. On Saturday they silenced all of their critics and pundits.
Hunter Cattoor scored a career-high 31 points and the seventh-seeded Virginia Tech (23-12) Hokies won the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship, beating top-seeded Duke (28-6) 82-67 to deny head coach Mike Krzyzewski a league title in his final season.
VT became just the second ACC team to win the chip with four wins in four days and the lowest-seeded team to win the most storied conference tournament in college basketball.
The Hokies came into the ACC Tournament having never played for or won an ACC title, and seeded No. 7 seemed unlikely —a seed that has never won the ACC Tournament. Their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes were tethering on the outcome.
VT’s last — and only — conference tournament title came in 1979 when the Hokies were in the Metro Conference.
Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said the Hokies were “luckier than hell” after that game.
After beating Duke how did it feel?
“Gratifying,” Young said.
The Blue Devils lost Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium to their rival North Carolina a week ago, derailing a celebration of the winningest coach in Division I men’s college basketball.
“I tell them all the time: ‘Don’t worry about me,’” Krzyzewski said. “Even in a moment of defeat I want to be there with them. How do we use it? How do we get better?”
Krzyzewski has been very protective of his team from all the attention give his last go-round.
“Last weekend the whole word was talking about it. So it was a very difficult weekend,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do is eliminate everything. These are young guys. I’ve loved coaching them. I think we can be good in the NCAA Tournament. I was really positive with them afterwards.”
Both teams started out very hot, heading into the first media timeout a combined 11-15 from the field and VT had a 14-12 lead. The Hokies went over 5 minutes without scoring until Cattoor drove for a layup. Cattoor was scoring machine in the first half, he shot 5-7 from the field, pouring in 17 points which helped the Hokies take a 42-39 lead into the break.
Virginia Tech came out smoking in the second half, specifically Cattoor, who scored nine of Tech’s first 13 points in the half. Both teams traded baskets once the Hokies took an eight-point. However, Hokies withstood all of all Duke runs. Cattoor continued to shoot the ball well, while Justyn Mutts and Keve Aluma kept making plays on both ends of the court and that was the difference in the contest.
When Mutts dunked over Duke’s star freshman Paolo Banchero with 2:26 left in the game, Virginia Tech led 76-64 and never looked back.
Virginia Tech’s first ACC championship since joining the conference in 2004 was sealed.
The loss likely means Duke’s best hope can be for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced on Sunday.
Banchero scored 20 points for Duke, which shot 4 for 20 from 3-point range and allowed the Hokies to make 50% of their shots.
“The next dead ball we went to the huddle and it was like, ‘We can taste it. We can taste it now,’” point guard Storm Murphy said.
The Hokies dominated the boards against the oversized Duke front court, grabbing 37 boards to Duke’s 36. VT produced 10 turnovers, which were turned into 14 points.
Aluma had (19 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists) for the Hokies.
Soon after Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the Hokies’ unofficially fight song, blared throughout Barclays Center and the Virginia Tech fans sang along like it was the fourth quarter at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia.