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By Jeff White (
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– In the stands and suites at John Paul Jones Arena, fans stood and applauded Saturday afternoon as backup point guard Chase Coleman dribbled out the final seconds of Virginia’s latest victory over ACC rival Virginia Tech.
This one featured little drama. The 19th-ranked Cavaliers never trailed in a 65-39 victory that delighted most of the sellout crowd at JPJ. The Hokies’ scoring output was their lowest in more than 50 years.
Virginia Tech (10-4 overall, 1-2 ACC) came in leading the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage (39.4). Against UVA’s Pack Line defense, the Hokies were 4 for 25 (16 percent) from beyond the arc.
“I thought we prepared well and practiced hard,” said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, who improved his record against Tech to 15-6. 
“We were locked in. Did they miss some open shots? Yes. But did we make them shoot contested shots the majority of the time? Yes. So I thought we first got our defense set and [established] all the things that needed to happen for us to be effective defensively against a team that is dangerous … I thought our guys came ready to go.”
For the Wahoos (11-2, 3-0), the victory was their third straight over the Hokies and sixth in the teams’ past eight meetings. Virginia’s leading scorer this season, fifth-year senior Mamadi Diakite, finished with only six points Saturday, but he grabbed 10 rebounds and had three assists. 
With the Hoos getting major contributions from Kihei Clark, Braxton Key and Kody Stattmann, Diakite didn’t have to do much offensively in this Commonwealth Clash contest.
Clark, a 5-9 sophomore, contributed 18 points –– three more than his previous career high –– and a game-high six assists.
“We tried to open the court a little more for him, let him attack, make some decisions, and he was really good,” Bennett said. “The pressure he put on both ends – offensively and defensively – certainly was one of the major keys to victory.”
Key, a 6-8 senior, totaled 18 points and 10 rebounds, the second double-double of his UVA career. Stattmann finished with 10 points and eight boards, both career highs for the 6-7 sophomore from Australia.
“I was really encouraged by that step from Kody,” Bennett said.
Coleman, a 5-9 freshman from Norfolk who joined the program as a walk-on last summer, had an impact too. In eight minutes off the bench, he had one assist, one steal and one rebound and hit his only shot, a 3-pointer on which Clark assisted.
“I thought Chase gave us a lift,” Bennett said. “He gave Kihei a breather, but then I put them in together and it was OK, because we could match [the Hokies’] quickness and he could handle the ball.
“The opportunities he’s getting, he’s doing a really good job. I chewed him out [at one point] because he got beat off the dribble, and I said, ‘You’ve got to keep guys in front.’ But I thought he was really good. He’s got a good mind for the game.”

Bennett smiled. “I don’t know why, but he wants to be a coach, and he thinks the game well.”
The Hokies’ tallest starter, 6-7 swingman Landers Nolley II, is a redshirt freshman who came in averaging 17.4 points per game. He scored 18 points against the Cavaliers, but only three in the second half.
Bennett praised the work of Key, who covered Nolley for most of the second half. 
“[Key] was there a touch quicker,” Bennett said. “He took the challenge, and he just didn’t allow [Nolley] to get as much separation and as much time on his shots. He really had to earn.”
Key said it was a collective effort.
“Really, it was just team defense,” Key said. “I thought in the first half, [Nolley] got a lot of looks. Some of them were contested, but some looks weren’t, and we know he’s a capable player and can score the ball really well.”
In the second half, Key said, his teammates “were stopping penetration a little bit, and I was just able to contest a few more shots, trying to make it a little bit more difficult for him.”
The right-handed Key hurt his left wrist Nov. 24 against Arizona State, an injury that required surgery and sidelined him for three games. Key had been playing with a cast on his wrist, but was able to switch to a splint Saturday, and that gave him more mobility.
“It felt really comfortable today,” Key said. “It’s a lot lighter and I have more access to my palm, so catching the ball and shooting feels a lot better.”
Nolley was the only Hokie to score in double figures. Junior forward P.J. Horne, who came in shooting 43.2 percent from 3-point range, was 0 for 9 from beyond the arc Saturday.
“I thought all of them were good [looks],” said Mike Young, who’s in his first year as the Hokies’ head coach. “I thought on maybe three of them in the first half, he looked a little rushed, he looked a little quick. Credit to UVA for maybe speeding us up a little bit. We need to handle that better.”
Virginia entered this game ranked last among ACC teams in 3-point field-goal percentage (27.5) and 13th in field-goal percentage (40.9). There were encouraging signs on both fronts for the Cavaliers, who lost most of the firepower from the team that won NCAA title in 2018-19.
Against the Hokies, the Hoos shot 46.3 percent from the floor overall and 33.3 percent from 3-point range.
“Guys are making shots, so it feels good,” Clark said. “I think guys are in a rhythm. We put in the work, so we’re just going to continue to play, and even if we don’t make shots we’re just going to continue to work the offense.”
FANTASTIC FINISH: With 6.6 seconds left in the first half, Bennett called a timeout to set up a final shot for UVA, which led 28-17. 
The Cavaliers executed the play perfectly. Inbounding from the left sideline in the frontcourt, Clark saw Stattmann flash to the left corner but passed the ball to 7-1 Jay Huff on the left elbow. Huff faked a handoff to Clark, took one dribble and then fed Stattmann, who was cutting backdoor, for a dunk.
“Great pass by Jay,” Clark said. “It gave us a little momentum going into the half.”
SOUND BITES: Not since Feb. 18, 1955, when they romped 107-59, had the Cavaliers beaten the Hokies so soundly in Charlottesville. Virginia won 78-52 in Blacksburg on Jan. 3, 2018. Among the postgame comments Saturday:
• Bennett on the defense that forced 13 turnovers by Virginia Tech: “That’s the most active our hands and our feet have been, and I think collectively we were solid defensively.”
• Bennett on encouraging his players to look for opportunities to push the pace: “Now we got rid of that bum Ty Jerome, we can get down the floor faster. No, I’m kidding. Ty’s probably like, ‘Why didn’t I get to go this fast?’ “
• Bennett on Stattmann’s progress: “Last year coming in it was very foreign to him, and he just wasn’t able to slide as well [on defense] But he is 6-7, and he’s bouncy, and [he has the] ability to bother some shots, to keep guys in front.”
• Clark on Key’s importance to the team: “He just brings a level of toughness, shot-making ability [and rebounding]. He’s just an all-around player for us and we just really need him to be at the top of his game. But that’s everybody. Everybody has to be on top of their game. We don’t have a large margin of error.”
• Coleman, whose mother is a Virginia alumna, on his appreciation of the rivalry: “I just kind of grew up around liking UVA more than Tech, and I ended up here, so I guess I’m part of that tradition. Go Hoos.”
• Key: “Every game’s a big game, especially when you hit ACC play. Obviously, we want to beat Virginia Tech. We know they’re our rivals. They want to beat us also, so we don’t want to let that happen, obviously.”
• Young on the Hoos: “As good as they are defensively, I thought that they were just exceptional today and beat us to some things, so tip of the cap to those guys. They’ve got another very nice outfit.”
• Young on Clark’s battle with Tech point guard Wabissa Bede, who went scoreless in 30 minutes: “Obviously, Clark got the best of him today in a matchup that we needed to win. Clark is very, very good and the engine for them and they put him in a number of ball screens. I’ll be interested to go back and look at it. He carved us up pretty good.” 
• Young, former head coach at Wofford, on his first game against UVA with the Hokies: “I’m certainly respectful of the rivalry and everything goes into it. It’s just a classic college basketball atmosphere and gorgeous building, great fan base. I just wish we could have played a little bit better today.”
CHALLENGING STRETCH: Three of Virginia’s next four games are on the road, starting Tuesday night against Boston College (8-6, 2-1) at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass. ACC Network will air the 7 o’clock game.
The Cavaliers have won six straight over the Eagles and lead the series 15-7. Boston College visits JPJ on Feb. 19.
Virginia is home against Syracuse next Saturday afternoon, then plays at Florida State (Jan. 15) and Georgia Tech (Jan. 18). A limited number of tickets remain for the Syracuse game.