Kihei Clark delivered the dagger to put Virginia up by three against Virginia Tech with 2.6 seconds remaining, and that would be enough for the Cavaliers to beat the Hokies 56-53 Wednesday night in Blacksburg and clinch a top four seed in the ACC tournament.
In the first half, it appeared as if the game was going to end similarly to the first time these teams met, when UVA won 65-39 and held the Hokies to their lowest point total since 1967. Virginia Tech called a timeout when UVA was leading 20-9, and then at halftime they trailed 26-11. Tech was 1-13 from beyond the arc in the first half, and Mamadi Diakite outscored the entire Virginia Tech team 13-11 (he finished with 19 points).
The second half however, was a different game entirely. Virginia Tech caught fire from three and went 8-14 in the second half, allowing them to score 42 points in the half and shoot their way back into the game. An 11-2 run with around 8 minutes to go allowed Tech to pull within 3, causing UVA to call a timeout.
From there, the game became a back and forth affair, which is a regular sighting for UVA fans. The score was tied 44-44 with 5:15 to go, and then Virginia Tech took the lead late in the second half. Playing one possession basketball games has become something that UVA is accustomed to, and this experience showed. Casey Morsell (7 points) made a clutch three with 1:56 to go to put UVA up by 2. A little less than two scoreless minutes passed by until Tyrece Radford (8 points) made the game tying layup with 11 seconds to go for the Hokies. Then it was time for Kihei Clark (10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists) to shine.
After receiving the inbounds pass, Clark brought the ball down the court like he always does. However, instead of driving to the hoop and looking to pass, he calmly drained the step back three with two seconds remaining and shouted in celebration. When Tech called a timeout, the UVA team mobbed Kihei for his clutch shot, with Mamadi Diakite lifting him off the ground in an embrace. This capped an 8-2 run for the Hoos that sealed the second meeting of these teams in the Commonwealth Clash, as Tech missed a shot as time expired.
As usual, UVA’s defense stepped up when they needed it the most. Braxton Key, who finished with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds, took a charge against Landers Nolley II (team-high 13 points) late in the second half and Virginia Tech settled for some tough shots, allowing UVA to storm back and take the lead.
This win secured a double bye in the ACC tournament for the Cavaliers, and it further solidifies their spot in the NCAA tournament. UVA has now won five games in a row and eight of their last nine. This winning streak and a 20-7 record will hopefully bring positive momentum as the Hoos take on Duke at home on Saturday.
By Kathleen Boyce