What transpired over the course of the 2021-22 Virginia Tech men’s basketball season was nothing short of remarkable. It’s the kind of stuff people watch ESPN documentaries on. Consider this, a team in the ACC cellar as of Jan. 26, mounted a run for the ages that culminated with maroon and orange confetti falling amid a bunch of jubilant Hokies who capped off one of the most historic finishes to a season in ACC history by winning the ACC championship.
As Hokie head coach Mike Young stood atop a ladder inside the Barclays Center emphatically swinging the net around and around, he had once again returned to the pinnacle of his conference. This time, it wasn’t in the Southern Conference, which he won five times. No, this title was accomplished in the Atlantic Coast Conference by winning four games in four days that included taking down the top three seeds on consecutive days. The last win came against the all-time winningest coach in the sport’s history.
We know the final destination, but let’s look back and appreciate the journey that got the Hokies to Brooklyn and becoming ‘forever champions.’
Tech opened the 2021-22 season against the Maine Black Bears, and for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Cassell Coliseum was rocking with over 6,000 fans in attendance. Justyn Mutts and David N’Guessan combined for 30 points as the Hokies shot 53% en route to an 82-47 blowout win.
The very next day, Tech was on a bus bound for Annapolis where the team faced Navy on Nov. 12 as part of the Veterans Classic. On Nov. 11, the Hokies took part in a tour of the Naval Academy, followed by practice and a team dinner on base.
Tech moved to 2-0 on the season by picking up a key road win at Navy, which was coming off a season-opening upset over Virginia. Playing in his home state, Keve Aluma dropped in 20 points while Hunter Cattoor chipped in 19 to pace the Hokies to a 77-57 victory.
Facing a quick turnaround, Tech next geared up for its New River Showdown with Radford, which was led by Mike Young’s former assistant at Wofford, Darris Nichols. The Hokies held the Highlanders to 39 points, the fewest they allowed all season, on their way to a 65-39 decision. Mutts provided the highlight of the non-conference slate by throwing down a lob from Storm Murphy that landed as No. 1 on SportsCenter’s Top-10 plays.
The win was the start to a 3-0 week for Tech, which earned the program’s 1,500th win against Merrimack on Nov. 21.
Following an 0-2 trip to Brooklyn for the NIT Season Tip-Off where the Hokies dropped matchups to then-No. 9 Memphis and then-No. 25 Xavier, the Hokies bounced back in a big way with a 62-58 win at Maryland as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Tech finished with an 8-3 non-conference record, culminating with a resounding 86-49 win over preseason Atlantic-10 Conference favorite St. Bonaventure in the Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout in Charlotte. Cattoor erupted for 21 points – a career high at the time – on 5 for 5 shooting from beyond the arc. He earned MVP honors following the game.
Tech then faced an uphill climb, dropping its first four games of the ACC slate for the first time since the 2014-15 season. The Hokies had to postpone their games against North Carolina and Pitt for health and safety reasons.
At 8-7 overall, 0-4 in the ACC, Tech got back on track against Notre Dame. A strong second half ignited by Nahiem Alleyne (22 points) and Justyn Mutts (24 points) spurred the Hokies to a 79-73 win over the Fighting Irish.
After a 62-59 road win over NC State, though, Tech suffered three consecutive setbacks to drop to 10-10 overall and 2-7 in the conference.
The turnaround started on Jan. 29 at Florida State where Hunter Cattoor and Sean Pedulla put on a clinic en route to a resounding 85-72 victory over the Seminoles.
An Orlando, Fla., native,Catoor lit up the scoreboard from beyond the arc, tying the single-game program record for 3-pointers made with nine. His 9-for-11 performance from downtown fueled the junior to 27 points and the Hokies to their first win in Tallahassee since Feb. 24, 1990. Complementing Cattoor’s effort was freshman Sean Pedulla, who dialed up a season-high 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting from 3.
That win launched a six-game win streak for the Hokies highlighted by wins over Syracuse and Virginia at home. Against the Orange, Justyn Mutts recorded the second triple-double in Virginia Tech history by charting 12 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. Keve Aluma added 20 points to lift Tech to the 71-59 win.
Headed into Big Monday with UVA, the Hokies were 15-10, 7-7 in the ACC. On the other hand, Virginia entered with a 16-9 overall record, including a 10-5 ledger in league play. The Hokies held off Virginia, 62-53, to secure their sixth straight win and a half-point in the Commonwealth Clash, presented by Smithfield.
That win streak was snapped by North Carolina on Feb. 19, but the Hokies rallied with three more wins punctuated with a 3-point dagger by Darius Maddox with 12 seconds remaining to propel Tech past Miami (Fla.), 71-70, in Coral Gables.
The Hokies then entered as the No. 7 seed for the ACC Tournament. Despite limping into the tournament following a 63-59 setback at Clemson in the regular-season finale, Tech got the opportunity to atone for that loss in the second round of the ACC tourney against the 10th-seeded Tigers.
The Hokies led by 14 points early in the second half before the bottom fell out and nothing seemed to be going Tech’s way. Trailing 75-73 and having to go the length of the court with six seconds left, Darius Maddox received the inbounds pass, drove up court, made his way to the left wing and drilled the game-winning shot as the horn sounded. Tech 76, Clemson 75.
Tech then matched up with No.-2 seed Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. The Hokies had five players score in double figures, led by Keve Aluma’s 20 points, to down the Fighting Irish, 87-80.
Making its first semifinal appearance since 2011, Tech had to go up against third-seeded UNC, which went 2-0 vs. the Hokies during the regular season. Maddox led all scorers in the semifinals, dropping in a career-high 20 points to punch Tech’s ticket into the ACC championship game for the first time in program history against Duke.
Cattoor saved his best performance of the season for last, ringing the bell for a career-high 31 points on 7-of-9 shooting from long range on his way to MVP honors in the ACC title tilt.
Tech led for over 30 minutes of the game. When the final horn had sounded, the maroon and orange confetti had fallen, and “Enter Sandman” had resonated throughout Barclays Center, the words coach Mike Young had uttered in late January were validated: “This thing’s going to turn. And when it does, it’s going to be something beautiful.” Final score: Virginia Tech 82, Duke 67.