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Cavaliers overcome slow start to trounce rival Hokies

The SportsXchange

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Under fourth-year coach Tony Bennett, Virginia's hallmark has been defense, a notion underscored by the fact that the Cavaliers entered Thursday's game at Virginia Tech with the nation's second best scoring defense.

When the Cavaliers can add an offensive flurry to their defensive prowess, they become very difficult to beat.

After a slow start, the Cavaliers used a 24-2 first-half run to build a double-digit lead in a 74-58 rout of the Hokies at Cassell Coliseum.

"We just try to take good shots, and when you shoot it like that, it helps a lot," Bennett said of the Cavaliers, who hit a season-high 11 3-pointers and shot 51 percent from the floor. "We're not a great offensive team. I don't pretend to be. But I want us to be a great team that executes and gets as good of looks as possible."

Freshman Evan Nolte, making his second consecutive start in place of injured forward Darion Atkins, scored a season-best 18 points and went 5-for-9 from 3-point range to lead Virginia (13-5, 3-2 ACC). Joe Harris added 17 points and was a key contributor during the decisive run.

Virginia Tech's Erick Green, the nation's top scorer, scored a career-best 35 points, but he was the only Hokie able to do much of anything against the Cavaliers' sticky defense. The rest of the team combined to shoot 8-for-25 and score 23 points.

"You've got to keep faith," Green said. "These guys, they're going to come. We've got some time left. Thirteen (ACC) games left, that's plenty of time. I still have faith in all of these guys. They're going to come along. It's just going to take a little bit."

Both teams got off to extremely slow starts. Virginia Tech (11-7, 2-3) didn't hit its first field goal until more than six minutes had elapsed, but the Hokies stayed in the game because the Cavaliers couldn't score themselves. Finally, the Hokies surged to a 17-10 lead on a Green basket with 9:28 left in the half.

Afterward, Harris knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 17-13, the start of the big run over the next 7:02 that helped Virginia race to a 34-19 edge. During the run, the Cavaliers hit six 3-pointers as the empty possessions piled up for the Hokies.

"That was great," Nolte said. "Definitely coming into an away game -- the first two, we didn't play really well and not near as well as we wanted to -- so we tried, especially against our in-state rival to come in and start defending. It showed right in that little run when we took off."

Green began to force his way into the paint in the final two minutes and got to the free-throw line. Two foul shots with 1:28 left in the half started a 6-0 burst to end the half, and Green's jumper with 1.7 seconds left cut the Cavaliers' lead to 34-25 at the break.

Paul Jesperson opened the second half by converting a three-point play, and the Hokies failed to cut the lead to single digits the rest of the way, getting no closer than 10 points. Every time Virginia Tech picked up some momentum, the Cavaliers hit another timely 3-pointer, including one from Nolte with 7:52 left that gave Virginia a 55-42 edge.

"I thought the effort was there," Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said. "I don't know how smart we played. We were supposed to guard certain guys certain ways, and we let Nolte get off for a few 3. Too open for him. We know he's a good shooter. That's about the most he can do right now. We left him too much space."

NOTES: Virginia Tech forward Marshall Wood, who had missed the last seven games with a broken bone in his left foot, played Thursday. ... Atkins, who missed the Cavaliers' game against Florida State last Saturday with a stress condition in his right shin, did not play. ... Prior to Thursday, the last six meetings in the rivalry -- and 10 of the last 11 -- had been decided by single digits. ... For the ninth time in the last 10 games, the Hokies had more turnovers than assists.
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