CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team led Old Dominion by 20 points in the first half and by 16 points in the second half.
But this game was no blowout. The lead got down to two points with eight seconds left.
The Hokies won a game by single digits for the first time this season, fending off ODU 75-71 on Thursday afternoon in the first round of the Charleston Classic at TD Arena.
“In the second half, we obviously didn’t play very well,” said Tech center Grant Basile, who had 15 points and three 3-pointers off the bench. “We let them back into the game. We just need to continue to bring it.”
“Not very good from our team,” Tech coach Mike Young said.
But Virginia Tech (4-0) never lost its lead in the second half.
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“We had some guys that we rely on … that had not played very well, but they rose up and made big plays when we needed it most,” Young said. “So encouraged by that. We’ll get a lot out of that experience that maybe we wouldn’t have had we beaten them [by] 20, 24, which it looked like where it was headed.”
Virginia Tech will meet Penn State (4-0), which fended off Furman 73-68 in the first game of the day, in a semifinal at noon Friday.
“We’ll need to play a lot better … against Penn State,” Young said.
The Hokies sank 10 3-pointers to ODU’s six.
“[Tech has] good shooters that were looking for each other,” said Tech point guard Sean Pedulla, who had 18 points and seven assists. “We just trusted the offense and continued to hit big shots.”
ODU (2-2) shot just 28.6% from the field in the first half but shot 52.8% in the second half.
“In the first half, our execution was woeful,” Monarchs coach Jeff Jones said. “In the second half, … the fact that we shot better was due to we had more ball movement and people movement. … If you’re moving, the [defensive] help isn’t locked in.”
“They were hitting some tough shots [in the second half], but we had some defensive busts,” Basile said.
ODU outrebounded Tech 46-32. The Monarchs snared 18 offensive rebounds.
“We kept going to those offensive boards,” Jones said. “That’s one thing I know that we can count on. We’ve got aggressive guys, athletic guys.”
“They’re just a really physical and scrappy team,” Pedulla said.
The Hokies shot 48.4% from the field in the first half but only 40% in the second half.
“In the second half, … they didn’t shoot as high a percentage, … [so] we didn’t have to face a set defense each time down,” Jones said.
Neither of Tech’s top two ball-handlers, Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor, played in the final 1:58 of the first half because each had two fouls. Down 39-19 with 1:35 to go in the half, ODU scored the final six points of the half. Tech turned the ball over twice in the final minute of the half.
“We could’ve put them away … at the end of the first half,” Basile said. “We’ve just got to put teams away then so we don’t have to play in close games.”
Down 45-29 with 16:24 left, ODU cut the lead to 58-52 with 5:56 to go.
Tech’s Darius Maddox (12 points) answered with a 3-pointer against ODU’s 1-3-1 zone defense to extend the lead to 61-52.
Wichita State transfer Chaunce Jenkins, who had 24 points off the bench for ODU, later made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 63-56. But Maddox answered with another 3-pointer.
“Maddox hit two gigantic shots,” Basile said. “That’s the type of player he is. He’s ready for that moment.”
Jenkins made a layup to cut the lead to 66-58, but Pedulla answered with a jumper.
ODU’s Ben Stanley scored to trim the lead to 68-60, but Justyn Mutts (nine points, 10 rebounds) answered with two free throws.
The Monarchs scored six straight points to trim the lead to 70-66 with 35.3 seconds left. Pedulla made one of two free throws to extend the lead.
Mylyjael Poteat grabbed a defensive rebound, was fouled and made two free throws to extend the lead to 73-66 with 18.9 seconds to go.
“That was a ginormous rebound,” Basile said.
Jenkins made a jumper to cut the lead to 73-68. After a Tech turnover, Mekhi Long made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 73-71 with eight seconds left.
But Cattoor (10 points) made two free throws with 5.3 seconds left to seal the win.
Basile came off the bench for the first time this season. Young opted to start Lynn Kidd at center instead.
“Lynn was playing very well,” Young said.
The Tech players wore “Hokies for Hoos” T-shirts in pregame warmups in the wake of Sunday night’s fatal shootings at Virginia.