Photo Credit: Liam Sment
In January, the Hokies faced Virginia and the pack-line defense for the first time in Mike Young’s tenure, falling 65-39 in Charlottesville in what was a disastrous offensive game.
When the teams met on January 4th, there was unexpected NCAA Tournament hope for the Hokies. The team had just three blemishes to their record, with one coming against Duke and two coming in the Maui Invitational against Dayton and BYU, both currently ranked.
Fast forward to February 25th: Virginia Tech has dropped seven of their last eight games, including two in a row against Miami and No. 6 Duke. Virginia has gone the opposite direction, winning four consecutive games and sitting in prime position for the NCAA Tournament.
The Hokies are ready for game two against Virginia, though.
“We've gotta make some shots,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said on the ACC Teleconference on Monday. “We had some shots in the first half [of the first meeting] that we typically get down."
The Cavaliers’ defense held Tech to just 27 percent from the field overall and only allowed 13 made field goals in the first meeting. The Hokies made seven of 24 attempts in the first half, with six of the makes coming from Landers Nolley, who led the way with 15 first half points.
“They try to give you those, you can say luxury shots, and you think it's a good shot but really a bad shot,” junior guard Wabissa Bede said on Tuesday. “It’s the shot they want you to take, so if we take our shots that we want to take, we should be able to knock them down and be successful.”
Bede explained that Virginia’s defense is set up to go under dribble handoffs, which might allow an open shot for the offense right off a screen. That’s the shot the Cavaliers want opponents to take, as there is usually 20 seconds or more still left on the shot clock.
“If we try to fight that urge to not take those shots and wind down the shot clock, we should be successful,” Bede said.
Freshman guard Jalen Cone, who did not score in the first meeting in Charlottesville, reiterated the concept.
“Last game, we took quick shots and good shots and turned down great shots,” Cone said. “I think next game, taking the great shot and turning down the good shot is going to be a big key for us.”
Cone, who has emerged as one of Tech’s leading scorers since the meeting with the Cavaliers in early January, saw just ten minutes in Charlottesville. The Walkertown, North Carolina native has averaged 10.5 points per game in the 14 games since the matchup with UVa.
“[Playing the pack-line] was definitely a blow in the face for the first time,” Cone said. “Those guys could guard the ball very well and it was shocking for all the freshmen. … It was a learning experience, so I think this time, we'll handle ourselves better in that situation.”
Another reason why the Cavaliers got out to an early lead was forcing turnovers.
The Hokies, who rank third in the nation in turnovers per game with 9.7, had eight miscues in the first half against Virginia. Tech finished with 13 turnovers on the evening, an uncharacteristic amount, noted Bede.
“They were speeding us up a little bit,” Bede said. “I blame that on myself. We had like eight [turnovers] in the first half. … That’s something crazy that’s not really like us, so I was kind of disappointed in myself watching the film.”
In the 14 games since playing UVa, Virginia Tech has recorded ten turnovers or less in 11 of them, including the last six games. Despite falling in their last two games to Miami and Duke, the Hokies only turned the ball over eight times in each game – a positive takeaway for such a young team with Bede having a good idea as to why that's been the case.
“It's being confident with the ball and making sure every pass is a perfect pass, like a 100 percent pass,” Bede said, who is averaging 5.74 assists per game this season. “[It’s] knowing a person is wide open, on time, on target – that’s what we preach a lot.”
To go along with the 13 turnovers in the first game, the Hokies struggled from behind the arc, making just four of 25 three-pointers. The four made triples tied a season low for Tech, who rank 16th in the country with an average of 9.8 made threes per game.
For a team that shoots almost 43 percent from behind the arc, Tech could not find a rhythm from three-point land. Cone credited the low percentage to the perimeter defending from the Cavaliers, which forced the Hokies to take tough shots.
“They guarded us on the arc very well last time,” Cone said. “They sped us up so some of the threes we took were forced threes and threes that they wanted us to take. That comes back to taking the great shot and turning down the good shot and learning from our mistakes last game.”
Though Virginia’s defense will look to wreak havoc once again, the Hokies enter Wednesday’s primetime match with a newfound confidence.
“We’re more confident now than we were before, that's the biggest thing,” Bede said. “It’s just always believing in ourselves. … Yeah, we did lose our last seven out of eight, but we believe in our work. … Even though this success wasn’t there, it doesn't matter. We're moving on to the next game.”
Check out the full transcript of what Wabissa Bede and Jalen Cone said to the media yesterday here.