BLACKSBURG — So much for momentum.
With Virginia Tech on the verge of a breakthrough victory, Virginia sophomore Kihei Clark stuck a dagger in the Hokies’ hopes Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum.
Clark’s 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining lifted Virginia to a 56-53 victory at Cassell Coliseum.
The Cavaliers entered the game as a 2 ½-point favorite after beating the Hokies 65-39 in Charlottesville in early January, and appeared to be on a similar path when they grabbed a 26-11 halftime lead.
It was still a 15-point game when the Hokies began a 3-point rampage. After going 1-for-13 from beyond the arc in the first half, Tech connected on eight of 14 3-pointers in the second half.
A 3-pointer by Hunter Cattoor with 4:51 gave the Hokies their first lead of the game at 47-46.
The teams traded leads before Tech took its last lead at 51-50 on a pair of Landers Nolley free throws.
Virginia took the lead on a Casey Morsell 3-pointer, but Tech countered with a driving layup by Tyrece Radford that made it 53-53 with 11 seconds remaining.
The rest was left for Clark, a 5-foot-9 sophomore who had a total of 14 made 3s in 34 games last season.
“He’s improved, for sure,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “He just makes big shots. That’s Kihei. He doesn’t have textbook form — none of that — but he always makes the big shot. Or, a lot of the time, he makes big 3s.”
Senior post player Mamadi Diakite hit eight of 12 shots from the floor and finished with a game-high 19 points. Clark and Braxton Key had 10 points apiece, with Key adding 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
Virginia (20-7, 12-5 ACC) clinched its ninth straight season with 20 wins or more. The Hokies fell to 15-13 and 6-11 in coach Mike Young’s first season.
“The kid made a great shot,” Young said of Clark. “I will think, ‘Should I have called timeout to get our defense set? It’s below 30 on the shot clock, so they’re going to play for the last shot.
“The kid hit a dribble-move step-back and he banged it, OK? That’s one of those [where] you tip your cap and you move on.”
Cattoor, with 13 points off the bench, was the Hokies’ only double-figures scorer. They shot 37.3% for the game and were outrebounded 34-23 but managed to hang around.
“First, I learned that we didn’t play good second-half defense,” Bennett said, “and I’d like to credit Virginia Tech. They had a terrific second half. They hit big, tough shots [and] deep shots. They spread you out.
“They really battled and that was part of [the Hokies’ comeback]. I don’t think we were as sharp as we needed to be. Some guys [for Virginia] made plays and I’ve said that repeatedly.”
Clark said he thought that Bennett might call a timeout as the seconds ran out prior to his game-winning shot.
“Luckily, he didn’t call it,” Clark said.
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