If there has been one team that has been the thorn in Virginia Tech’s side under Buzz Williams, it’s the Louisville Cardinals, the only team that the Hokies haven’t beaten under Williams. Tonight seemed like a potential opportunity to take down the 16th-ranked Cardinals in the comfortable confines of Cassell Coliseum even without star PG Justin Robinson.
Like all those previous opportunities, this game was not the Hokies’ night to end their losing streak to Louisville.
No. 11 Virginia Tech fell to No. 16 Louisville 72-64, ending their three-game winning streak and their perfect home record. With the loss, the Hokies dropped to 18-4 on the season and 7-3 in ACC play while Louisville improved to 17-6 on the season including 8-2 in conference play.
Three-point and free-throw shooting were two significant areas of advantage for Louisville with the Cardinals shooting 48.1% (13-27) from three-point range and 11-12 from the free-throw line compared to 34.8% (8-23) from three-point range and 15-21 from the line for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech didn’t have a great rebounding night with the Cardinals having a 10-5 offensive rebounding advantage though VT did have only 13 turnovers compared to 15 for the Cardinals.
Above all else, the Hokies appeared to miss Justin Robinson and not because the Hokies were very sloppy, though the first half of the second half included several turnovers. Rather, it was clear that Virginia Tech didn’t have a lot of creativity on the offensive end and at times didn’t go to their bread and butter of attacking the rim outside of some moments from Alexander-Walker. That showed as the Hokies were even in points in the paint at 20, one area that VT has been able to usually win comfortably in their best performances.
Combine that with having four guys playing 38+ minutes after 3 of those same guys played 40 minutes Saturday and you have to wonder if the Hokies’ fatigue also led to them not having the same intensity for long stretches on the offensive end. Whatever the case may be, the Hokies will have 5 days to rest up and become more creative on the offensive end and get rid of some predictability that helped Louisville on the defensive end.
Kerry Blackshear was the star of night for the Hokies as he had 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks on 6-13 shooting from the field plus 8-9 shooting from the free-throw line. Blackshear and Nickeil Alexander-Walker both did all they could as it was apparent they were the two most talented players on the floor, but that wasn’t enough against a well-rounded Louisville team.
Alexander-Walker had 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists but his 6-10 shooting from the free-throw line and 6 turnovers were big problems for the Hokies in this one. Alexander-Walker was the one Hokie guard who was consistently aggressive attacking the rim and getting to the line, but he was a little off in a more on-the-ball role tonight.
Ty Outlaw was productive tonight with 12 points on 4-7 shooting from three-point range while also leading VT with 7 rebounds. Ahmed Hill struggled as he shot 4-12 from the field including 0-7 from three-point range on his way to having 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. Wabissa Bede was held off the scoreboard but did have 5 assists and 4 rebounds while Isaiah Wilkins had 5 points on a perfect 2-2 shooting with Jon Kabongo coming in briefly during the first half.
From the opening tipoff, it became clear that Virginia Tech was going to try to slow the tempo and minimize the total number of possessions as could be expected given the six-man rotation. However, the Hokies also struggled to find their offensive rhythm as Louisville jumped out to a 16-6 lead.
Virginia Tech eventually found some rhythm going on a 7-0 run to cut the Louisville lead to 3. Louisville would get the lead back up to 8 before the Hokies used a 6-0 run late in the first half to cut the Louisville lead to 2 before a 3 with less than 2 seconds from Steven Enoch gave Louisville 31-26 lead at halftime.
Louisville outshot the Hokies 44.4% to 37.0% from the field including a major advantage from beyond the arc with UL going 7-16 from deep and VT shooting 3-15 from outside. Louisville also had a 4-3 offensive rebounding advantage though the Hokies benefited from a clearn first half of basketball with only 3 turnovers compared to 7 for Louisville.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the Hokies with 9 points while Kerry Blackshear had 8 (and a team-leading 4 rebounds), and Ahmed Hill had 7. Despite the volume of points, all three shot under 43% from the field while Isaiah Wilkins, Ty Outlaw, and Wabissa Bede combined to go 1-4 from the field, the only make coming from Wilkins.
Steven Enoch was the surprise for Louisville as the Cardinal big man had 8 points including a pair of threes while UL leading scorer Jordan Nwora also had 8 and Dwayne Sutton had 7.
Virginia Tech had a 4-0 mini-run to start the second half before Louisville found their rhythm with a 10-1 run to push the lead to 41-31. The Hokies had another response with a 7-0 run followed by a 14-3 run from Louisville that gave the Cardinals a 53-38 lead with 12 of Louisville’s 14 points coming from Ryan McMahon. Louisville was able to hold their lead above double digits for a stretch before a 6-0 run from Kerry Blackshear brought the Cardinals lead back down to single digits.
From there, Virginia Tech was able to get the Louisville lead down to as little as 6. However, the Hokies weren’t able to get it under two possessions with Louisville eventually pulling away for a