For the second straight year, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team is saddled with a 2-7 ACC record.
Last year’s squad lost to Miami on a half-court heave at the buzzer to fall to 10-10 overall and 2-7 in league play. But the Hokies rose from the ACC cellar and won 13 of their next 15 games, capped by a memorable 4-0 run in the ACC Tournament.
This year’s team beat visiting Duke 78-75 on Monday to snap a seven-game skid and improve to 12-8 overall and 2-7 in league play.
The 12th-place Hokies hope to build on that win and pull off another turnaround.
“Winning here back at home against Duke, I feel like we’re in a good spot to take off,” Tech freshman guard MJ Collins said after Monday’s win. “We have the team, the coaching staff, to really make a run right now.”
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The Hokies will take on Syracuse for the second time this month when they host the Orange (13-8, 6-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Syracuse beat the Hokies 82-72 on Jan. 11. It was one of only two double-digit losses by Tech in the losing streak.
“We can be a really good basketball team,” Tech center Grant Basile said after Monday’s win. “We’ve been in every game, other than Syracuse. … We just need to start flipping that script of kind of losing these … close games.
“We knew if we continued to stick together we’ll be on the right side of these games. There’s a lot of games left.”
The Hokies were just 3 of 19 from 3-point range against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense in the first meeting.
Hunter Cattoor missed the loss at Syracuse with a fractured elbow. But the 3-point ace has returned to action, so Tech might fare better from long range in the rematch. Cattoor had five 3-pointers in the win over Duke.
Cattoor could also improve Tech’s defense in Saturday’s rematch. He would have guarded Joseph Girard III in the first meeting. But with Cattoor sidelined, Girard had 24 points in the first meeting.
Tech point guard Sean Pedulla was just 3 of 15 from the field in the loss at Syracuse, including 2 of 11 from 3-point territory.
But he scored 16 points in Monday’s win. He was 4 of 8 from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. He also dished out five assists.
“Pedulla had his best game by far in quite some time,” Tech coach Mike Young said.
The Hokies did not have trouble scoring in the paint at Syracuse. Basile had 26 points and 10 rebounds for Tech; he was 12 of 17 from the field.
Basile was equally impressive in Monday’s win. He had 24 points and eight rebounds. Basile was 10 of 15 from the field.
“Basile was terrific, maybe his best [game for Tech],” Young said of Basile’s performance against Duke. “He belonged on that floor and asserted himself, was aggressive.”
Tech power forward Justyn Mutts had nine points and six assists Monday. He had 21 points and nine assists in the first meeting with the Orange, when he was an adept facilitator in the middle of the Orange’s zone. He had been equally valuable in that role in last year’s win over Syracuse, recording a triple-double.
Young used a bigger starting lineup than usual in Monday’s win because of Duke’s size. Lynn Kidd started at center, with Basile and Mutts at the forward spots. Tech guard Darius Maddox did not start for the first time this season.
Maddox will presumably go back to starting on Saturday. But he is shooting just 30.9% from the field in ACC play.
Collins, on the other hand, had six points off the bench in Monday’s win — including the game-winning basket. He has scored 20 points in the past three games combined.
Collins played 22 minutes Monday, while Maddox played only six minutes.
“Collins … gobbled up a number of minutes that Darius Maddox gets. But … Darius Maddox will always be in the mix as long as I’m here,” Young said. “We’ll figure that part of it out.”
One Hokie who played at Syracuse will not be in action for the rematch.
Tech freshman guard Rodney Rice was 1 of 9 from the field in the first meeting, which marked his college debut after he had been sidelined by a broken ankle. Rice has not played since; he would up breaking a finger in practice later that week.
Syracuse shot 50.8% from the field in the first meeting.
Girard was not the only Syracuse player who hurt Tech. Center Jesse Edwards, a 6-foot-11 center, had 13 points and nine rebounds. Freshman guard Judah Mintz had 12 points. Freshman reserve Maliq Brown had 11 points and 12 rebounds for his lone college double-double. Freshman reserve guard Justin Taylor had 10 points — his ACC high.