Versatile Justyn Mutts helped lead Virginia Tech out of ‘a dark place’ and to the NCAA tournament | College Sports

Storm Murphy knows the moment he knew Virginia Tech would finish off Duke in the ACC championship game on Saturday night. It came with 2:27 to play, when Justyn Mutts threw down a vicious, two-handed dunk over Paolo Banchero, then hung on the rim for a moment, glaring down at the Blue Devils’ star.

“We were like, ‘We can taste it,’” said Murphy. “We can taste it now.”

Mutts’ slam put the Hokies up 12 on their way to an 82-67 win and the program’s first ACC tournament title. A media timeout followed and Mutts and his exuberant teammates brought the energy of the play into their huddle.

“We were all saying to each other, ‘I can feel it. I can feel it,’” said Mutts. “It’s happening right now.”

Of course, none of it — not the remarkable turnaround from a 2-7 start to league play, not the ACC title, not the NCAA berth — happens without Mutts, a New Jersey native who started his career at High Point, then transferred to Tech from Delaware before the 2020-21 season.

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Mutts has been the Hokies’ do-it-all guy, much the way former star Tyrece Radford was before he left for Texas A&M. Mutts can score on the low block, he can drive, he can shoot. More importantly, he can rebound, he can pass and he can defend multiple positions.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey called the 6-foot-7, 230-pound graduate student “a one-man show,” after the Hokies knocked the Irish out in the quarterfinals in Brooklyn last week.

“He is so valuable to our team,” said Murphy, who transferred to Tech this season from Wofford. “I’ve seen that since I arrived. Initially, seeing his game, playing with him, I immediately labeled him as an all-around, versatile, elite basketball player. Justin can make up for so many areas with his length and then his athleticism and being able to pass. He can do it all.”

On the season, Mutts leads the Hokies — who earned an 11-seed and face sixth-seeded Texas in Milwaukee on Friday in the NCAA tournament — in rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots. He’s second in scoring, putting in 10.1 points per game.

“Just do whatever it takes to win,” said Mutts. “Somebody has to do that dirty work that nobody else wants to do. I think every team needs that one guy who’s a little bit crazy. I take a lot of pride doing that stuff.”

Mutts is also crazy smart, and the winner of this year’s Skip Prosser Award, which goes to the ACC’s top scholar-athlete.

His contributions helped Tech push through its slow start and live up to the preseason hype in Brooklyn last week. Tech downed the ACC tournament’s top three seeds — Duke, Notre Dame and North Carolina — on its way to the title.

“I think they’re the team they thought they were going to be at the beginning of the year,” said Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The play of Mutts and Keve Aluma, another Wofford transfer inside; the late-season resurgence of Murphy, a scoring point guard who oozes moxie; and the development of young bench players Darius Maddox and Sean Pedulla, helped pull Tech back from the brink.

“We were in a pretty dark place,” said Aluma. “It can be easy to just quit and let things die, but we rallied.”

They had a steady, positive coach help them along. Mike Young just stuck to the same message — they were close to putting it together, and it would be “beautiful” once they did.

“It was probably a little annoying in that stretch when we kept losing and he kept saying that,” said Aluma. “It’s like, ‘I’m ready to be there. I’m ready to start winning.’”Justin “can do ital

But Young, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, kept saying it. And eventually it went from being motivation to being reality.

As Mutts hung from the rim Saturday night in Brooklyn, literally pulling himself up over Duke, his teammates smiled and rejoiced.

“He can do everything and it’s fun to see,” said Murphy. “And it’s really, really fun to play with.”

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Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber