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Virginia Tech punched Virginia in the mouth: Bennett addresses how his team needs to respond

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Virginia Tech’s Wabissa Bede and UVA’s Kihei Clark fight for a loose ball. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Virginia led Virginia Tech by eight at the half, stretched the lead to double digits early in the second half, was still up eight with 13 minutes to go – but it never felt right.

The Cavaliers had made three late shot clock threes in the opening 20 minutes, and another one, from Sam Hauser, gave them some breathing room after an early second half Hokies run.

“Fool’s gold,” coach Tony Bennett called it after the 65-51 loss, which was punctuated by a 19-0 Tech run over a seven minute-plus stretch.

There were breakdowns on defense, on offense – which came up empty on 12 straight trips during the run.

Most noticeable: the ‘Hoos lost their rudder.

Guys were pointing fingers after a missed defensive assignment, taking out of context shots, everybody just trying to do too much.

Bennett, with a couple of days to reflect, addressed the meltdown in his Zoom with reporters on Monday.

His take: “you grow from it.”

“I think our guys have to understand, you know, whether they know it or not, their game gets circled a lot,” Bennett said.

He felt afterward that the final minutes came down to “who’s hungrier, who’s going to be tougher,” and, credit to Virginia Tech, the Hokies seemed to want it more.

“I said it a lot. Virginia Tech’s good,” Bennett said. “They played inspired basketball, you know, they kept chipping away. And they’re always good defensively. They’re hard to score against. (Keve) Aluma was terrific. He’s really good in terms of scoring in multiple ways. And then, you know, they can stretch it. You have to play if you’re going to beat a good team in that situation, got to play the whole game. And we had a stretch where we played solid basketball, and then when they made their run, we didn’t answer, and some breakdowns hurt us.

“You grow from it. You respond, you look at areas,” Bennett said. “I think they did show some areas we’ve got to keep addressing, and you have to have a clear picture of, you know, human nature is an interesting thing. Yeah, we had won some games, we’re in a good spot. But we’ve got work to do. And if we had all taken anything for granted, that would have been a huge mistake. I don’t believe we did.

“We’ve just got to keep knocking and find a way,” Bennett said. “The next game is going to be a challenge, and you get ready for that. But of course, there’s specific areas that you keep addressing, and you grow from it. That’s what every team does in those situations.”

It doesn’t sound like it’s as much X’s and O’s as it might be sports psychology.

“You know, I think Kihei (Clark) brings some fight, Sam (Hauser) will play hard. Those guys have the experience. You know, Kihei has always been that way,” Bennett said. “We’re not the most vocal group. We’ve known that from the start. We’re probably more, I guess, skill-oriented. So, how do we bring as much intensity and energy when we need that, and that stuff shows up? At times, it’s been really good, and at times, some of it is just the other team plays better than you do, and we yield in certain areas, partly because of them, partly because of us.

“It’s just trying to muster it up, encourage it and come together, and encourage the staff, the coaches, the players to keep, keep challenging each other. We got to get it practice. We got to get it because these games are intense, they’re close,” Bennett said.

Story by Chris Graham


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