Photo Credit: Matt Gentry of Roanoke Times via Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech has shown plenty of times this season that they know how to make halftime adjustments, and get the job done in the second half. Tonight against Notre Dame, the 19th-ranked Hokies had their best second half performance to date on their way to a comfortable victory.
The Hokies beat Notre Dame 77-63 to improve to 9-2 on the season including 3-1 in conference play while the Fighting Irish fell to 3-7 overall including 0-4 in ACC action.
This game was a tale of two halves on the defensive end for Virginia Tech as Notre Dame shot 55.2% from the field in the opening 20 minutes on their way to a 42-35 halftime lead. However, Tech's defense was absolutely dominant in the second half holding Notre Dame to 2-19 as the Hokies outscored the Fighting Irish 42-21 in an absolutely dominant 20 minutes on both ends of the floor.
Tech's success was largely built on their play around the rim as Tech had an impressive 16 offensive rebounds compared to 6 for Notre Dame on their way to a 15-6 advantage in second chance points. On top of that, Tech's strong offensive performance was built around their success in the paint outscoring the Fighting Irish 34-20 on that part of the floor.
The Hokies' frontcourt duo of Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts have been key to Tech's success and once again had strong performances. Aluma had another double-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block while shooting 5-9 from the field and 5-6 from the free-throw line.
Meanwhile, Mutts also put together an impressive display with 14 points on 7-13 shooting plus 7 rebounds and 2 assists. Both Aluma and Mutts played 34+ minutes in this game which may be needed going forward in the short term as Mike Young told media after the game that Cordell Pemsl is having some injury issues that will likely prevent him from playing Tuesday against Duke.
Mike Young on Cordell Pemsl: “His back is all jacked up. He was at Louisville and was uncomfortable. He is with our medical team and they are doing everything they can to get us back with us.— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) January 11, 2021
“I doubt seriously that he plays on Tuesday.” #Hokies
Back issues for big men are less than ideal to say the least, and the Hokies likely will have to be patient to make sure Pemsl's body heals properly from his current injury.
Tech also had a pair of backcourt stars have big games starting with Jalen Cone who had 18 points on 5-12 shooting including 4-10 from three plus 4-6 from the free-throw line. Additionally, Hunter Cattoor had a strong performance with 15 points on 5-10 shooting (3-5 from three) including a big three-pointer from the VT logo to help ice the game.
Cattoor has also emerged as somewhat of a backup point guard option for the Hokies, a development that will be important to watch going forward since the opt out of Cartier Diarra left the Hokies with only one true point guard in Wabissa Bede. Jalen Cone also can be a point guard option but both Cone and Cattoor have growth as being on-ball offensive initiators.
Tyrece Radford was a force on the boards with 8 rebounds to go with 9 points on 4-7 shooting. Wabissa Bede had 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals while Nahiem Alleyne had some shooting struggles finishing scoreless with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal. David N'Guessan had 2 points and 1 assist in 7 minutes, and Darius Maddox saw 2 minutes of playing time.
Virginia Tech may have not gotten off to a great start, but their strong second half was impressive and should give them lots of momentum as they host Duke this week in what is a great opportunity for the Hokies to make it clear that they are a legitimate contender to win the ACC regular season title.