Virginia 69, No. 21 Virginia Tech 56
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)—Revenge was sweet for Virginia in its rematch against No. 21 Virginia Tech, and if the weekend goes well, it could lead to a Cavaliers championship, too.
Sean Singletary scored 17 points and the Cavaliers beat the Hokies 69-56 Thursday night to move into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with one game left in the regular season.
The Cavaliers (20-8, 11-4), picked to finish eighth in the preseason, finished 8-0 in league play at their new John Paul Jones Arena and took a one-game lead over the Hokies, Boston College and No. 8 North Carolina, which lost at Georgia Tech.
The Cavaliers need only to win their regular season finale at Wake Forest on Saturday to claim their first ACC title since 1995.
“It means we’ve come a long way,” Singletary said of the opportunity few thought Virginia could achieve. “If we can get this win Saturday, it will just be icing on the cake.”
This one might have been the cake, coming just 18 days after the Hokies manhandled Virginia for 40 minutes in Blacksburg, winning 84-57 behind stout defense and exceptional shooting.
But the Hokies (20-9, 10-5), who host Clemson on Sunday, “just didn’t play well, plain and simple,” an angry coach Seth Greenberg said. Even after a 13-0 run gave them a brief first-half lead, they let Virginia answer with a 16-3 burst and never got closer than five again.
“They didn’t compete at the level you need to compete at,” Greenberg said of his team.
J.R. Reynolds and Mamadi Diane added 13 points each for the Cavaliers. Jason Cain had eight points and nine rebounds and helped on one of the Cavaliers best defensive games this year.
“Today the key was just playing hard and playing defense more than anything,” said Diane, who had managed just 10 points total in his last three games. “The offense just came.”
Coach Dave Leitao said he shied away from the revenge angle in talking to his team and anyone else that would listen this week, but “obviously it lived in their mindset, it lived in their spirit and they brought in a very workmanlike atmosphere today,” he said.
Zabian Dowdell led the Hokies with 17 points, while Deron Washington and A.D. Vassallo, who each had 22 in Blacksburg, finished with 9 and 3, respectively. The Hokies shot 36 percent.
Virginia Tech got as close as 59-52 with 4:25 to play, but Diane hit an 18-footer and Singletary added two free throws with 3:51 to play, rebuilding the Cavaliers comfort zone.
The Hokies had scored seven straight early in the second half to close to within 43-38, but Singletary scored on a drive and Diane hit the first of his two 3-pointers in a span of 55 seconds. The second helped offset four quick points by the Hokies, and when Singletary followed it with his own 3-pointer and two free throws, Virginia led 56-42 with 11 minutes remaining.
The Hokies got no closer than seven thereafter.
Greenberg bristled when it was suggested the contributions from Diane and others were a surprise, even though Singletary and Reynolds are always the focus of other teams on defense.
“Those guys are ACC players. You guys want to trash them all the time like it’s a two-headed monster. It’s not a two-headed monster,” he said. “Those other guys contribute and put them in position to win games. We wanted to guard those guys; we didn’t do a good job. That’s just the way it is.”
Virginia led 36-28 after a first half that was essentially three runs.
The Cavaliers led 19-8 after hitting four 3-pointers in the first seven minutes, then made only 2 of their next 13 shots. Dowdell scored six in a 13-0 run that gave the Hokies a 21-19 lead with 6:48 left. Virginia then got it back together and used a 16-3 burst to regain control.