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Cavaliers Blow Another Lead, But A Clutch 3 From Clark Saves The Day Against Rival Hokies

The Cavaliers seem to take great pleasure lately in tearing the hearts right out of opponents' chests and stomping on them.

For the second time in four games, Virginia hit a clutch 3-pointer with under four seconds to go to edge a rival in thrilling fashion. On Feb. 15, North Carolina was the victim, and Tomas Woldetensae threw the dagger. On Wednesday, Virginia Tech was on the chopping block, and Kihei Clark held the knife as the Wahoos defeated the Hokies, 56-53, for their fourth consecutive win in the series. Virginia has also won five in a row and eight of its past nine.

For the second straight game, though, the 'Hoos (20-7, 12-5) gave back a huge lead in the second half. At Pittsburgh, the Panthers never could quite draw even or get out in front after falling behind by 14 with five minutes and change left. But the Hokies (15-13, 6-11), down 15 at the break after a pitiful shooting performance in the first half, had a lot more time to come back and rallied with a vengeance as the 3-pointers started to rain down.

The Hokies made eight 3s in the second half and took the lead, 47-46, on a trey by Hunter Catoor with 4:49 remaining. But the Wahoos finally woke up, and after some back and forth -- with Tech taking a three-point lead at the 3:31 mark -- Casey Morsell hit his lone triple of the contest to put the 'Hoos back up, 53-51, with 1:59 remaining. Kody Stattmann drove the lane and found Morsell on the baseline for the shot.

Tyrece Radford made a driving layup for Tech with 11 seconds remaining to knot the score at 53. That set up Clark's heroics.

The little man with a big heart moved quickly but patiently down the court, scrambled left around Mamadi Diakite's screen, then took a hard dribble inside the arc before swooping back out. He rose up confidently and fired away as Jalen Cone was left grasping at air. Swish, nothing but net.

"Yeah, I was shooting it," Clark said after the game, making his intentions clear.

"He takes big shots. That's Kihei," said Tony Bennett, who decided against calling a timeout before the play. "Thank goodness I didn't."

Mamadi Diakite led Virginia with 19 points, 13 coming in the first half when he outscored the Hokies by himself, as they could only muster 11 in the first 20 minutes. Diakite went 1 for 1 beyond the arc and added six rebounds and two blocks. Clark and Braxton Key had 10 points each, with Key recording a double-double with 11 rebounds. Clark went 2 for 4 from deep, had six boards, six assists, and just three turnovers as UVa limited itself decently well to 11. Morsell came off the bench to play 34 minutes in matching the Hokies' small lineup and came up with seven points, that big 3 (1 for 5), and three boards. Tomas Woldetensae made one 3 (1 for 5) and scored five points, but contributed a season-high four assists. Stattmann had that nice assist to Morsell and scored three points on one triple (1 for 3). Jay Huff started but played just 13 minutes, recording two points, two rebounds, and two blocks.

The Hokies were led by Landers Nolley II, who's been struggling and came off the bench to score 13 points, but six came on free throws. P.J. Horne scored nine points on three 3s, and Radford and Cone tallied eight points each.

Virginia shot 42.9 percent from the field and went 6 of 21 from beyond the arc and 8 for 10 at the charity stripe. Tech shot 37.3 percent, 9 of 27 on 3s, and 6 of 7 at the line.

On the one hand, it is great that the Wahoos are coming up so clutch after failing in a few close games a month ago or so. They are now 9-5 in ACC matchups decided in single digits and are 5-0 in the past five games that have been decided by three or fewer points (Wake Forest, Notre Dame, UNC, Pitt, VT). On the other hand, winning this way isn't sustainable all the way through March, and it would be good for the guys to take another step and show they can hold a lead more effectively.

"We're giving a lot of people a heart attack," Key quipped.

Winning close games is exciting and fun, but losing after being up by double digits is really frustrating. One would imagine UVa will need to play a complete game to defeat its next opponent, Duke. But then again, the Blue Devils have been struggling on the road, so maybe not. But as Pete Gillen once said, "Duke is Duke." You know this next one won't be easy to pull off if the players continue to be inconsistent.