Photo Credit: Matt Gentry/Virginia Tech Athletics
The No. 16 Hokies closed tonight’s game as 21-point favorites, but failed to play like it for much of the game.
VMI opened the game in a matchup zone, and Tech had trouble breaking down the packed-in defense shooting a poor 9-of-30 from the field in the first half, including just 3-of-15 from three. The Hokies entered the game shooting 50 percent from behind the arc, but even when presented with open looks Tech failed to knock them down and only held a 30-23 lead at the break.
The second half was somehow much uglier. In a span of seven minutes, the Hokies’ only points came from a long triple from Hunter Cattoor, while the Keydets completed a 15-3 run to take a 45-41 lead with 7:56 left. A 9-0 Virginia Tech run recaptured momentum, however, sparked by a short jumper and two assists by Wabissa Bede. The Hokies were able to keep VMI at arm’s length the rest of the way with a Keve Aluma and-one opportunity proving to be Again, the Hokies were able to generate open looks but failed to convert on them, shooting 1-of-10 from behind the arc in the second half.
Tech’s best offense came in the paint on second chance opportunities. Keve Aluma has been an offensive rebound machine early in the season and that continued tonight, as he had four offensive boards and 12 total rebounds. Justyn Mutts, in addition to a strong follow up finish off a Radford miss late in the game, also chipped in with four offensive rebounds.
Last season, the Hokies rarely were able to get those second opportunities to score. This year, due to the two front court transfers, Tech has been able to control of the flow of the game better by simply having the ball for more possessions.
The Hokies’ defense, ranked No. 29 coming into the game by KenPom, carried the load for Virginia Tech tonight. Although they were not helped by misses and long rebounds, VMI only shot 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. In addition, the Hokies won the rebounding battle 48-30 with the Keydets getting few second chance opportunities
This game featured the season debut of Jalen Cone who was unable to play in the Hokies’ opening three wins. He, like the rest of the team, struggled to knock down shots but was able to convert on one of his four three-point attempts.
Keve Aluma was once again the best player on the floor. Despite a shaky night from the charity stripe, the big man finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds and was Tech’s safety blanket on offense as Mike Young chose to run the offense through him in the post against VMI’s matchup zone.
With Cartier Diarra out for tonight’s game – a player clearly missed given Tech’s unimpressive offensive outing – Wabissa Bede was the primary ball handler for the entire game. He came up with two clutch buckets and assists in the final five minutes to push the Hokies to victory, ending with 11 points, four rebounds, and three assists.
This was not an impressive win and it will not help Tech’s adjusted efficiency metrics, but for NCAA tournament purposes, it does not hurt the Hokies. In early December, that is what matters.
The Hokies are back in action on Tuesday when they host Penn State in the ACC-Big 10 challenge.