BLACKSBURG, Va. — De’Andre Hunter said it was all about the first shot.
As one of the first players off the bench for No. 8 Virginia at Virginia Tech on Wednesday night, the freshman made a 3-pointer to give the Cavaliers a 21-12 lead. He went on to score 14 points, leading a balanced offense and a smothering defense as the Cavaliers rolled to a 78-52 victory.
It was Virginia’s largest margin of victory in the series since a 107-59 win on Feb. 18, 1955.
“I know I can shoot,” Hunter said. “I haven’t been shooting it too well lately, but I’m going to keep shooting. Seeing it go in, it really boosts my confidence.”
Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy added 13 points each and Devon Hall had 12 for the Cavaliers (13-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who ended a two-game losing streak in Cassell Coliseum.
The defensive effort, always a calling card for coach Tony Bennett’s team, was more impressive than the offensive balance.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. had 14 points to lead the Hokies (11-4, 0-2). Virginia Tech came into the game leading the nation in field goal percentage at .532 and among the leaders in 3-point percentage at .427, but they made only 17 of 47 shots and were just 2 of 12 from 3-point territory. Scoring leaders Ahmed Hill (15.6 ppg) and Justin Bibbs (14.6) finished with a combined eight points on 3-for-14 shooting.
“To hold a team like that, to really stifle them, it’s impressive, but you really don’t have time to sit back and say, `Wow,” Jerome said.
Unless, perhaps, you are the coach of the team that was stifled.
“I always give the credit to the opponent,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said. “Twenty-three percent of the time we turned it over, which is in essence the same turnover rate we had (in a 68-56 loss) at Syracuse. Both defenses caused that.”
Virginia led 37-25 at halftime and expanded its lead throughout the second half. A 15-0 run that featured 3-pointers by Jerome, Nigel Johnson and Guy pushed the margin to 63-35 with 6:50 remaining. When Justin Robinson ended the run with a layup for the Hokies, he also ended a Virginia Tech scoring drought that lasted more than 6 minutes.
Virginia led throughout and used an 11-4 run late in the first half to open a 37-23 edge. Guy started it with a 3-pointer, Hall and Hunter both converted offensive rebounds and Jack Salt finished the flurry with a dunk.
Bennett rarely begins his postgame remarks with an opening statement, but he made an exception and was beaming as he did it, sharing that he’d awarded walk-on junior Justice Bartley with a scholarship after the game.
“I got to do something that is one of the greatest joys as a coach,” he said. “He really embodies — we talk about being a servant in our program a lot — and it’s a walk-on that does all the little things. You should have seen the joy in his eyes and the excitement in the players’ eyes, so I’m on a high from that.”
Bartley, who got into the game when Bennett emptied the bench late, hit a 3-pointer and couldn’t wait to share the news with his parents.
“My mom’s definitely going to be crying,” he said. “I have a few siblings headed to college so this definitely helps out.”
Virginia: The Cavaliers weren’t bothered by Virginia Tech’s game-long full-court press, committing just six turnovers. They also hit on 12 of 25 3-pointers with six players connecting at least once from beyond the arc.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies averaged better than 90 points during the nonconference portion of their schedule, but have found offense more difficult to come by since ACC play started. They managed just 56 points in a 12-point loss to Syracuse in their league opener before facing Virginia, one of the nation’s top defensive teams.
Virginia returns home to face No. 12 North Carolina on Saturday.
The Hokies are at home again, facing Pittsburgh on Saturday.