A vicious dunk, a giant smile, and a lot of three-pointers: Kyle Guy’s big night carries Virginia in Blacksburg

Story by Zach Pereles

BLACKSBURG, VA. A ferocious put-back dunk, a mini pull-up on the rim, a big smile and a slight flex toward his own bench, with a point to his flexed bicep included.

That was all Kyle Guy needed to shock — and then incense — the Hokie faithful inside Cassell Coliseum on Monday.

“It felt great,” Guy said after the game. “You can let a lot of frustration out when you’re that high in the air.”

Guy was adamant that it wasn’t his first putback dunk, but minutes later, backcourt mate Ty Jerome deadpanned, “That’s a first.”

Braxton Key, though, came to Guy’s rescue. The two shared AAU teams, and Guy was a big part in bringing Key, a transfer from Alabama, to Charlottesville. So he would know as well as anyone if it was indeed Guy’s first putback jam.

“He had an All-American game in Rucker Park and he had about six dunks,” Key said. “That’s his glory days. … That’s the last one I remember.”

But the minutes previous to the dunk were ones Guy would like to forget. Virginia Tech scored on its first four possessions, including two easy buckets from Ahmed Hill, Guy’s defensive assignment.

“We were switching off ball defensively, which we don’t do,” Tony Bennett said. “They ran good fake screens and slips, but we were just out of position. … I didn’t understand a couple of things that took place, and that’s why I took him out. It wasn’t just him — it was kind of everybody — and we needed to get it right.”

So Bennett pulled his leading scorer out at the first dead ball. His players needed to get it right, and that started with Guy.

It worked to perfection for the junior guard.

“He just said that I just gotta in my stance and be a little bit more alert,” Guy said “It helped me refocus to know that we’ve just got to play through that.”

He came back in 75 seconds later and poured in 14 more points — in addition to an early three — to give him 17 for the half, more than half of his team’s total output of 32. It was a shooting performance that for all intents and purposes saved Virginia’s then-fledgling offense.

“He can score, and we’ve seen that,” Bennett said. “When you’re struggling, sometimes you’ve just got to make a few baskets. I thought the guys corrected some things that needed to be corrected, and we were again better in the second half.”

Given the Cavaliers’ struggles through the first 20 minutes — they turned the ball over eight times and allowed five offensive rebounds — their 32-29 advantage wasn’t just a bit of luck, but also a testament to Guy’s scorching offensive game.

“What [Coach Bennett] said to us at halftime, it was kind of hard to remember we were up,” Jerome said. “He really gave it to us. We were definitely fortunate to be up three the way were playing.”

The visitors also made it to halftime in the lead despite missing De’Andre Hunter for much of the half. He was forced to sit for the final 12 minutes of the half due to two early fouls.

“Whenever he’s in foul trouble — or Ty or me — the other [two] of us three have to be a little bit more assertive, a little bit more aggressive,” Guy said. “We’re always looking for our shots, but when someone’s out, the offense can get stagnant at times, so we just try to move the ball and get open looks.”

Guy was indeed aggressive, pulling the trigger 10 times in the opening half and connecting on six shots, including four threes.

The long balls rained in from everywhere. The corner. The wing. Up top. One even banked in from an impossible angle.

“I didn’t know that one was going in,” Guy said sheepishly. “Part of being a good shooter is just shooting the ball with confidence, and I know I can get hot at any moment, so when my teammates are feeding me, I’ll keep shooting.”

And his teammates had plenty of confidence in him to keep hoisting.

“He gets really hot,” Key said. “He just needs to see the ball go in one time and it’s an ocean for him. To have a guy like that on our team … it just makes our offense a lot more of a threat.”

The Cavaliers played considerably better on both ends in the second half. Virginia Tech shot 11 percent from three in the contest, the Hokies’ worst shooting performance from deep since 2016. And the Cavaliers made them pay time and time again.

When Key splashed down a triple with 5:51 remaining to stretch the Cavaliers’ lead to 13, Virginia Tech called a timeout, and the wind fell out of the sails of a once-raucous Cassell Coliseum.

Key, who had made just one three in the past month and had missed his first three attempts of the night in Blacksburg, was finally on the board. The Cavaliers weren’t at the finish line yet, but they were close. Jerome embraced Key after Buzz Williams called for time.

“He missed one the play before that … and he had his head down walking back,” Jerome said. “I told him, ‘Keep shooting. If it comes in and it comes down and you’re open, you’ve got to let it go. Shoot with confidence. I believe in you.’”

It was a big moment for the player and the team. Key said he’s been taking hundreds of extra threes to get back on track.

“He said, ‘I told you,’ Key said. “He’s been telling me, ‘Stick with it. It’s gonna fall. Your moment’s gonna come.’ It’s been rough for the past couple games for sure, but you’ve just got to stick with it, and it finally happened. It was a good feeling.

A few members of the maroon-clad crowd picked up their coats, waved goodbye and left their hopes at the door after the Key swish.

It looked for a moment that they may have made a massive mistake. The Hokies cut it to seven points with 2:32 to go, but that was as close as they would get until an uncontested layup by Nickeil Alexander-Walker with four seconds left provided the final margin.

As it turned out, the most important thing they missed was another three from Guy — his sixth of the night — to put the game out of reach.

It was nothing those who had departed early hadn’t seen already.

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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