Virginia Tech has been two different teams this year — one with Hunter Cattoor and the other without him.
When Virginia Tech (11-6, 1-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) travels to No. 10 Virginia (13-3, 5-2) on Wednesday, the Hokies hope to have Cattoor back from an elbow injury as they attempt to end their five-game losing streak.
Cattoor sustained the injury on Dec. 21 in the second half of a 70-65 overtime loss at Boston College. Since then, Virginia Tech is winless.
Cattoor averages 9.6 points and is the Hokies’ second-most-accurate shooter from beyond the 3-point arc (40.3 percent). But most of all, the Hokies have missed his defensive presence, according to coach Mike Young, who regularly assigns Cattoor to the opposition’s best player.
“Hunter’s going to guard him and the other matchups fall into place,” Young said. “When Hunter’s gone, everyone’s got to move up a step.”
In Virginia Tech’s most recent loss, an 82-72 setback at Syracuse on Jan. 11, the Hokies surrendered their highest point total of the season and allowed an opponent to make more than half of its shots for the second time. The Orange hit 50.8 percent from the floor and 8 of 16 from long distance.
Hokies scoring leader Sean Pedulla (16.8 points per game) has struggled without Cattoor. With his backcourt mate sidelined, Pedulla has made only 19 of 64 shots from the floor (29.7 percent) and 8 of 32 (25 percent) from beyond the arc.
Through the Hokies’ first 13 games, with a healthy Cattoor alongside, Pedulla shot 48 percent overall and 36.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Doing their part against Syracuse were frontcourt players Grant Basile (26 points, 10 rebounds) and Justyn Mutts (21 points, nine assists).
Coming off an ankle injury, highly Virginia Tech touted freshman Rodney Rice made his college debut, producing two points and three steals in 29 minutes.
“With the addition of Hunter and Rodney Rice, we’ve got more punch on the perimeter and that’s only going to help us move along,” Young said.
Virginia enters on a three-game winning streak after a 67-58 victory Saturday at Florida State, which completed the Cavaliers’ first regular-season sweep of the Seminoles since 2013-14.
Virginia was paced by Armaan Franklin (20 points, seven rebounds) and Ben Vander Plas (15 points, seven rebounds). The duo combined to make 7 of 13 shots from 3-point range.
At 6-foot-8, Vander Plas is undersized for a center, but Virginia coach Tony Bennett likes the flexibility he provides as an alternative to 6-11 shot blocker Kadin Shedrick.
“His sureness and catching and his decision-making with his passing and threat from 3, it just pulls more people out so there’s more driving opportunities,” Bennett said of Vander Plas.
Reece Beekman hit 2 of 3 attempts from long distance against Florida State as Virginia finished at 50 percent (11-for-22) from the arc while holding the Seminoles to 26.3 percent shooting from deep (5-for-19). The Cavaliers also committed just six turnovers, one of their two lowest totals of the season.
It was the second straight game in which Bennett had Vander Plas lead the smaller lineup.
Virginia trailed North Carolina by seven early in the second half on Jan. 10. However, over a span of seven minutes, Vander Plas tallied 12 points as the Cavaliers outscored the Tar Heels 25-8 en route to an eventual 65-58 win.
–Field Level Media