Even after 62 college games at three different schools, Justyn Mutts had never dealt with anything like the charge Villanova’s Justin Moore drew on him Nov. 28 along the baseline in the waning regulation seconds of Virginia Tech’s eventual 81-73 upset win in overtime.
Able to breathe a sigh of relief simply because of the outcome of the game, Mutts is grateful for the moment that temporarily sent his heart into his throat. He’s still learning, still growing in the sport.
“I think playing the game, and just thinking about it, I’m able to see it from all perspectives now that I’ve been around for so long,” said Mutts, a 6-foot-7 redshirt junior forward who has started eight of Virginia Tech’s nine games after starting 18 of 28 games as a freshman at High Point and 29 of 33 games last year at Delaware. “I’d say experience has definitely developed that.
“With all that being said, I still can say I’ve never seen that play against (Villanova). I’ve never seen a screen set like that. I’ve never seen a play where I wasn’t looking out for it before it happened, but at this point, that’s another experience that I’ve had.”
Tech (8-1, 2-0 ACC) is reaping the benefits of Mutts’ ability to efficiently convert events in games into future actions and, in this case, preventative measures – a skill born out of his basketball travels. Tech forward Keve Aluma offers the same sage wisdom, as does Virginia’s Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy for their program.
All four players are enjoying their first seasons on the court for their respective teams after arriving as transfers.
No other ACC teams have gotten greater scoring and rebounding contributions this season from duos of transfer players than No. 23 U.Va. (5-2, 2-0) and No. 24 Tech, which meet Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville. Aluma and Mutts are bringing a combined 22.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game, and Hauser and Murphy are chipping in with 24 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
That’s not to say other ACC programs haven’t benefited immensely from the overall production they’ve garnered via the NCAA transfer portal.
Wake Forest has leaned heavily on UNLV transfer guard Jonah Antonio (13 ppg), Houston Baptist transfer guard Ian Dubose (11 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.5 assists per game), East Tennessee State transfer guard Daivien Williamson (10 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Tennessee transfer guard Jalen Johnson (9.3 ppg, 4 rpg) and Virginia Tech transfer guard Isaiah Wilkins (5 ppg) to get off to a 3-0 start.
Boston College is just 2-6, but Lehigh transfer forward James Karnik (10.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Quinnipiac transfer guard Rich Kelly (9.5 ppg), Providence transfer guard Makai Ashton-Langford (8.9 ppg) and Rider transfer forward Frederick Scott (5.3 ppg) represent four of the Eagles’ top eight scorers.
Louisville guard Carlik Jones (16.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), a Radford transfer, and Syracuse forward Alan Griffin (16.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg), an Illinois transfer, have been two of the ACC’s most impactful players in their first seasons competing in the conference.
Aluma, a 6-9 redshirt junior forward who is playing his first season at Tech after sitting out last year on the heels of transferring from Wofford, has joined Jones and Griffin as one of the biggest statistical contributors in the conference among first-year transfer players.
Averaging 16 ppg and 6.7 rpg, Aluma has combined with Mutts (6.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) to offer Tech a much-needed shot in the arm from a rebounding standpoint.
“We’re nine games in,” Tech coach Mike Young said. “Keve Aluma is doing it, night in and night out. Justyn Mutts was really good [in Tech’s 80-78 win against Miami on Tuesday, when Aluma had a career-high 26 points and Mutts had 15 points and nine rebounds] and had three 3s. Are they exceeding expectations? I don’t know. They are good players.”
Tech has also gotten first-year transfer help from guard Cartier Diarra (7.5 ppg), who played in four games after transferring from Kansas State before deciding to opt out this season because of coronavirus concerns, and forward Cordell Pemsl (2.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg), a 6-9 addition from Iowa.
“We have bigger guys than last year,” Aluma said. “Last year, we had a lot more shooting, but this year, we have size. We just want to be aggressive and do damage in the paint.”
Hauser, a 6-8 redshirt senior forward who sat out last season at U.Va. after transferring from Marquette, is leading the Cavaliers in scoring (12.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 per game). His late 3-point shots in U.Va.’s 71-64 overtime win against Kent State and in the Cavaliers’ 66-57 win Wednesday at Notre Dame were critical, but he admits he’s still getting comfortable as a shooter and on the defensive end.
“Obviously, I’ve missed some open shots and it’s frustrating, but you just got to stick with it and just shoot like the next one is going to go down,” Hauser said.
“I just got to work on my on-ball defense. I think that’s an area where I definitely need improve.”
Murphy, a 6-9 junior guard who transferred in the offseason from Rice, didn’t know until the day before the Cavaliers’ season opener against Towson he’d earned a waiver from the NCAA granting him immediate eligibility. He’s been U.Va.’s most effective perimeter shooter, making 51.6% (16 of 31) of his 3-point attempts and 53.2% of his shots from the floor overall.
“You know, he can stretch the defense with his shooting,” U.Va. coach Tony Bennett said. “He’s a multiple-position player, can guard different positions and even offensively can do (different) stuff.”
Norm Wood, 757-247-4644, firstname.lastname@example.org