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Cavaliers Accept Gift from Georgia Tech

Game Highlights

Historically, the arena they used to call the Thriller Dome has been a House of Hoo Horrors, where Virginia teams have suffered some of their most inexplicable losses. It did not seem to be the best place to go when desperate for a win to stem a three-game slide. Interestingly, the Yellow Jackets have been a bit of a Wreck at home, 0-3 in ACC play coming into this game, while they have been 3-2 when Ramblin'. The Cavaliers rode 13 first-half Georgia Tech turnovers to an eight-point halftime lead, then held on when the Jackets started holding on to the ball and made several second half runs. A three-point shot by Jay Huff and a pair of free throws from Mamadi Diakite helped the Hoos get away from Atlanta with a 63-58 win.

Huff led the way with perhaps the best game of his career. His career-high 17 points tied Diakite for the team lead. Jay led the Hoos with 8 rebounds and a career-high 6 blocked shots, most of which ended up in UVA hands. The big man was efficient and proficient, converting 7-10 field goals, including his only three, and going 2-2 from the free throw line, giving him four straight charity stripe conversions going back to late in the Syracuse loss. Huff added 2 assists and only committed a single turnover and 3 fouls in his 34 minutes. Diakite was 5-6 from the free throw line and supported Huff's efforts with 6 boards and 2 blocks, although he did commit a team-high 5 turnovers, including two careless ones in a row that helped Tech turn the tide in the middle of the second half.

"[This was] the third game in a row where he's played very solid, and I think tonight he took another step," Coach Bennett said of Huff after the game. "He played well defensively, continuous effort on the glass, bothering shots, and then his skill was there.  I thought he [was] terrific the whole game.... He really gave us a lift, rim-protecting."

Despite Tech committing 7 turnovers in the first 7 minutes, when James Banks, III slammed home a Moses Wright miss, the Hoos were only ahead by a single point, 8-7. They gave the ball back 4 times and missed a slew of shots to offset Georgia Tech's largesse. Fortunately, the Jackets remained in a giving mood through the rest of the first half, ending with 13 turnovers. Back-to-back threes from Kody Stattmann and Tomas Woldetensae helped the Hoos grab the initiative at 16-11. The two teams traded baskets until the Cavaliers made a late-half spurt. With just under five minutes in the half, Woldetensae's second three gave the Hoos a 25-20 advantage, than after a Tech free throw, Kihei Clark converted on a baseline inbounds play for a layup, and picked up a Mike Devoe lost ball and fired it ahead to Jay Huff who kicked it forward to a streaking Braxton Key for a dunk and the largest lead of the first half, 29-21.

Virginia avoided two persistent gremlins of this season: the buzzer-beating three and the early second half opponent run. The Cavaliers carried that 8-point advantage into the half, and scored the first bucket of the second on a nice DDD from Clark to Huff.

Tech countered, then the Cavaliers mounted an 8-2 charge with their new-found fast break. First Clark picked up a ball rejected by Huff and raced to the other end for a layup, then Diakite sandwiched a short jumper between two fast-break dunks. The second one made it 43-29 Virginia, and they appeared to be running away from the Wreck.

But this is Virginia, and this is the ACC. Tech brought in 6-10 junior Evan Cole, who made an impact with his movement, and went to a dual-quick backcourt of Jose Alvarado and Bubba Parham, which assured the Jackets of having one of them guarded by a man not quick enough to stay in front. Better movement on offense combined with a spate of Virginia turnovers - two by Clark and two careless ones by Diakite - let Tech climb back into the game. When the Jackets had gotten to within 8, Woldetensae's third three of the game pushed the lead back to 11 at 48-37, but then Georgia Tech held the line at 48 for almost five minutes, while their now turnover-free offense continually assaulted a surprisingly porous Virginia defense. With just over 7 minutes to play, the home team made it a two-point game at 48-46 on Alvarado's corner three and celebratory air guitar solo. The home crowd was alive and Virginia fans were seeing the fourth consecutive late second half lead slip away into ignominious defeat.

Then Jay Huff took over. Huff earned the coveted Seattle Hoo Motor Forker of the Game with his ferocious play down the stretch, when he was the dominant figure. He had gone to the bench with Virginia still up by 11, then at the media timeout after Alvarado's curtain call, Coach Bennett put him back in for Stattmann. Huff immediately threw back the Yellow Jackets advance with a pick-and-pop three when James Banks forgot the game plan and hedged the ball screen. Jay preserved that position with a block at the rim on the next possession, then proceeded to tip out a couple of offensive rebounds, sweep the defensive boards, shut off the paint, dive to the floor to avoid losing a loose ball, sink an elbow jumper to keep the lead at 7, then cap it off just inside the one-minute mark with a dunk from a Woldetensae blind pass to the rim that made the score Virginia 59, Georgia Tech 52 with 0:52 on the clock.

 In addition to Huff and Diakite, the Cavaliers got excellent performances from Clark and Key. Kihei only scored 7 points and was 1-4 from the free throw line, but he hit 3 of his 5 two-point shots and dished out 7 assists against the 2 turnovers. On the second turnover, I thought he got fouled. With both turnovers within a couple minutes of each other, it means he played over 35 minutes of flawless basketball. He ran the fast break beautifully, a complete turnaround from early in the season. It was his best game since Virginia Tech, and his first really good game against a team with bona fide ACC big men.

Key had an all-around excellent game, other than on the free throw line where he went 0-4. He chipped in 10 points, and added 6 boards, 6 assists and 2 steals to only 2 turnovers and 1 foul. He wiped away two of his missed free throws by chasing down the rebound and saving it out of bounds off a Tech player. On the inbounds play, Huff wound up scoring on a dunk.

Woldetensae was promising with 3-7 from the arc, 3 steals, a block, a couple of assists and only one turnover.

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