Virginia Tech Hokies, Hunter Cattoor catch fire at the right time to win automatic NCAA Men’s Tournament bid

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Despite Hunter Cattoor’s struggles over the past month, his Virginia Tech teammates have continually reminded him of the same thing: “You’re the best shooter in the gym, you’re the best shooter in the gym.”

On Saturday, he proved them right.

Cattoor scored seven 3-pointers and scored 31 points to lead the No. 7-seeded Hokies to their first ACC championship in an 82-67 victory over No. 1 seed Duke.

“He had a Klay Thompson night,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Cattoor, a junior guard from Orlando, Fla., hit four 3-pointers in the first 13 minutes of the game, then scored nine points in the first 4 minutes and 16 seconds of the second half to push Virginia Tech lead to 10. Duke would not come closer to five the rest of the game.

“Honestly, it was kind of a blur,” Cattoor said. “Coach [Mike] Young already talked to us in the locker room [and said] just go out there and have fun, and so I was kind of like that. I dreamed of moments like that.”

After making better than 40 percent of his 3-point attempts as a freshman and sophomore and starting just as strong as a junior, Cattoor hit a wall during ACC play. In his last 13 games, he’s only made 25 percent of his 3-point attempts, which is 4 for 13 in the first three games of the ACC Tournament.

But he came out on fire Saturday, consistently getting clean looks against Duke’s defense in the opening minutes. When the shots started coming in, his teammates knew they had to find ways to open him up.

“It’s like I’m sitting on the couch watching TV,” said senior goaltender Storm Murphy. “He just doesn’t miss anything. We want him to get every shot when he’s hot like this. We talk to him to keep shooting him. In the last month he hasn’t turned so well, and he’s owner He talked about it. He accepted it. He didn’t hide it. So we all went up to him and kept saying, ‘My God, you’re the best shooter in the gym in the world. world. ‘we go.’ He believed in it and he left today like that.”

With Cattoor as the catalyst, Virginia Tech hosted an offensive clinic Saturday night. The Hokies made it tough on Duke’s defense by consistently having five players who could make plays off the dribble and from the perimeter. This caused problems for Duke’s big man duo Mark Williams and Theo John, forcing them out of the paint and away from the basket. Virginia Tech cut up Duke’s defense on the dribble and with ball movement, getting open shots on almost every possession.

The Hokies also limited mistakes, turning the ball over just nine times and allowing just four offensive rebounds. Combined with 10 3-pointers, Duke just couldn’t keep up. The Blue Devils shot 4-for-20 from 3-point range and were limited to seven second-chance points and three quick-break points.

In addition to Cattoor’s 31 points, big man star Keve Aluma had a career-high 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

“Aluma is a great player,” Duke guard Trevor Keels said. “Great style – pick-and-pop, he can do pretty much anything. He’s going to go for it. He’s a great player. You’re not going to completely rule him out of the game. He does so much for the team, and he stepped in at the big moments.”

Virginia Tech entered champions week squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and even after beating Clemson, Notre Dame and North Carolina on consecutive days, the Hokies were still not assured of a spot on the pitch before the start of Saturday’s title match. Now, there’s no reason to sweat on draft Sunday — Virginia Tech returns to the NCAA Tournament.

It’s a position the Hokies were expected to occupy going into the season, but it seemed like a far-fetched scenario in late January. Virginia Tech has lost three straight in ACC play to fall to 10-10 overall and 2-7 in the conference.

Since then, the Hokies have won 13 of their last 15 games, capped off with four wins in four days this week in Brooklyn.

“When we’re 2-7, losing games that we don’t expect to lose, that burden, that doubt, creeps in,” Murphy said. “It’s hard to have that. It was a dark place. We didn’t want to be there, we didn’t expect to be there. But our belief never wavered. ‘in the summer. When it really got real, we pushed through and kept pushing.”

From .500 in January on the periphery of the bubble entering the week, Virginia Tech now finds itself comfortably on the field and could perhaps land in an even better position than the 10th seed the Hokies received in the tournament. NCAA from last season.

“It takes time. Maybe a failure on my part. We’re a lot more talented than we were playing,” Young said. “You take it to heart. It’s hard to digest. I knew when it fell into place, it would be a beautiful thing. And it fell into place. I didn’t think it would come to this, but we’re there and we’re not giving it back, I can tell you that.”

Krzyzewski said he thought the Hokies were playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.

“They’ve been like a well-oiled machine,” he said. “This is a team that you need three or four days of preparation for, to put together your defensive game plan, and it still might not work. This is the team they thought they were at the start. of the year. They’ve hung in there, probably got tougher, built more character, gotten so close. It shows in the last 15 or so games they’ve played. They’re really good.

While the win catapulted Virginia Tech into the NCAA tournament realm, it was also a historic victory for the Hokies program, marking their first conference tournament championship since joining the ACC in 2004. In fact , it was their first conference tournament championship since 1979, when they were in the Metro Conference.

Young called the championship “rewarding”, while Cattoor stressed its importance.

“It means a lot just to the history of Virginia Tech,” he said. “We don’t just go out for our team here in the locker room. We do it for all the players before and everyone who’s been through Virginia Tech before. It means a lot to be first.”

After the match, the players and coaches performed the usual net-cutting on the Barclays Center floor. In the press conference that followed, the players were asked what they thought about climbing the ranks with the scissors.

“The first thing that crossed my mind? Aluma said. “Champions.”

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