As Virginia Tech’s season came to a heartbreaking close against Alabama Thursday night, emotions ran very high. It was clear that the Hokies had every expectation of winning that game and making it into the next round of the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately, the Hokies’ dance only lasted one song for the second year in a row.
Here are three things that went wrong for the Hokies against the Crimson Tide:
1. There was no answer for John Petty
Alabama freshman guard John Petty has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the nation. He was a 38% three point shooter this season. However, his game is very one-dimensional as he struggles to contribute elsewhere.
That did not matter Thursday as his shooting was the Achilles Heel for the Tech defense.
The main worry for the Hokies coming into the game was how to stop star point guard Collin Sexton. The Hokies held him to just three points in the first half. Most would have expected the Hokies to have a comfortable lead going into the break with that sort of defensive effort against Sexton.
However, Petty kept the Tide in the game.
He had three 3 pointers in each half, each seemingly coming at the worst possible time for the Hokies. Petty is not the most complicated player to guard, as nearly all of his offense comes from behind the line. However, the Hokies could not stop his hot hand, and this allowed him to keep the game close.
Eventually, Petty drew more defensive attention, which allowed Sexton to heat up and take over. He finished with 24 points, 21 of which came in the 2nd half. Not only did Petty hurt the Hokies by scoring points, he also forced them to make costly defensive adjustments.
2. The Hokies could never capitalize on momentum swings
For a fan of offense, this game was exactly what one could want. Both teams shot over 50% from the field, and the combined score was 169 points. With both teams scoring so much, momentum was hard to come by. Neither team led by more than seven points.
In these sort of games, the difference maker is which team can seize enough momentum to carry themselves over the top. There were a few opportunities for Tech to truly take control of the game that they did not capitalize on.
One of which came with about six minutes left in the first half. Junior Justin Robinson made a three pointer to put the Hokies up five and get his first points. They then forced a missed jumper and a turnover from Alabama, but could not score anymore points for the next three minutes. The Tide scored on a third chance putback, then later added five more points to cap off the 7-0 run. Instead of taking control of the game, the Hokies squandered their lead.
Other instances like this one plagued Virginia Tech, and they allowed Alabama to hang around too long as Collin Sexton took over when it mattered most.
3. Key players were in foul trouble
While the game was a very fast paced offensive shootout, the Hokies had issue with capitalizing on chances to pull away. This was due largely in part to a few of the team’s most valuable players getting into foul trouble. Justin Robinson, Kerry Blackshear and Wabissa Bede each fouled out, and all three struggled with this problem early on.
The loss of Blackshear was especially difficult, as he spent over half the game on the bench, playing just 18 minutes. Because of this, freshman PJ Horne was forced to play a bigger role than he was accustomed to. Horne gave his all on the court, but the 6’5 forward was unable to give the same post presence that Virginia Tech needed from Blackshear.
Robinson picked up his fifth foul on a controversial charging call in the last-minute of the game. The charge negated what should have been an and-1 opportunity, and Robinson being forced to leave the game put the nail in the coffin.
While this loss was very disappointing, the future is still very bright in Blacksburg for a Virginia Tech team that will have most of its key players returning next season. Fans will be hopeful for coach Buzz Williams to use this loss as motivation to carry the team to new heights in 2019.