Before Wednesday night, the BYU men’s basketball team had traveled to play Atlantic Coast Conference teams eight times. Eight times the Cougars went home with a loss. This time, the Cougars, with good defense and some clutch plays, head back to Provo with a win.
BYU held on to defeat Virginia Tech 70-68 Wednesday to win their first true ACC road game in school history. Junior guard Brock Zylstra hit his only shot of the game, a 3-pointer, with 26.5 seconds left to give the Cougars the lead, and the BYU defense preserved the victory with a steal and a big blocked shot.
Senior forward Noah Hartsock led the Cougars (18-5) with 22 points, 16 in the second half when he became the go-to-guy as junior forward Brandon Davies was on the bench with four fouls. Davies had 17, and the BYU frontline dominated, scoring 45 of the team’s 70 points.
The Hokies (12-8) entered the game with the No. 1-ranked 3-point defense in the country, allowing their opponents to shoot just 25.4 percent from beyond the arc. Their stinginess continued in this game, as they held the Cougars to 5-for-24 from 3. But several BYU players hit big 3-pointers as the clock ticked its way closer to the end. Freshman guard Matt Carlino, Hartsock and Abouo hit a trey each late in the second half, and then Zylstra made the biggest shot of the game.
After Zylstra’s shot, freshman guard Anson Winder stole the ball, and was fouled immediately. He converted on one of the free throw attempts, giving BYU a 4-point lead. The tension was extended for BYU when an inbounds pass from Hartsock was deflected off several players before being ruled off the hands of Zylstra with nine seconds to go. On the last possession of the game, junior guard Erick Green drove toward the basket but his shot was blocked by Hartsock. The Hokies threw up a desperation 3 as time expired, but it came off the rim to give the Cougars the victory.
BYU was finally able to knock down its free throw attempts, a struggle for the team since the beginning of the season. Its season average entering the game was 70.4 percent, but the Cougars were able to hit 21-of-24 (87.5 percent) from the line.
Both teams started slow from the floor in the first half. Virginia Techopened 0-for-15, but the Cougars didn’t shoot much better, as their largest lead only got to 12 points. Both teams shot 30 percent or worse in the first half, and the Cougars had a 29-25 halftime lead.
However, the second half proved much easier for both teams to convert baskets from the field. BYU finished the game shooting 33 percent, while the Hokies shot 42.9 percent, including 64 percent in the second half.
Green scored 11 points for Virginia Tech, extending his streak of double-figure games to 21. Senior guard Dorenzo Hudson led the Hokies with 14 points, while Victor Davila and Jarell Eddie each scored 12.
The Cougars will host Saint Mary’s on Saturday, and then Gonzaga on Feb. 2 at the Marriott Center in arguably the toughest back-to-back games of the season.