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Three Reasons Why Virginia Tech Lost to Boston College 68-63

Basketball 1

There were so many things that went wrong for the Hokies in Saturday’s game against Boston College that it was hard to tell what went right. This season’s theme of letting the opposing team’s big man have a career game happened yet again. Boston College center James Karnik had a career high in points for the Eagles with 26 points, and he added 9 rebounds to his line. Karnik’s nine rebounds played a part in the Eagles dominating the Hokies on the glass, with a 38-23 rebound advantage on the Eagles' way to a 68-63 victory over Virginia Tech.

The Hokies getting out-rebounded has been a consistent problem over the course of this season, but this time, the 16 offensive rebounds the Hokies allowed Saturday to Boston College were a season high.

Early on in the first half, the Hokies played great defense against the Eagles. They forced them into tough shot attempts and they were quick and on time with their defensive rotations to pick up the open man or to stop the ball. Boston College was 0-6 from the floor before a DeMarr Langford Jr. dunk after the 16-minute mark. The Eagles’ shooting woes and eight first half turnovers led to the Hokies having the lead for most of the first half.

The Hokies had eleven points off of those eight BC turnovers. Yet, their lead remained small with Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts both going to the bench in foul trouble just thirty seconds apart, with a little over six minutes left in the half. Both fouls were not smart from either player. Aluma’s foul came when his man was away from the basket, and Mutts’ second foul came when he let Bickerstaff beat him on a baseline drive for the bucket.

The early foul trouble was only part of the problem for the Hokies Saturday, as the same problems that have impeded this year’s team from getting on any kind of run resurfaced again. The Hokies were outrebounded, slow in their defensive rotations, unable to get much going offensively, and presented again an inability to come up clutch in crunch time.

Problems On Defense

Throughout the game, the Eagles maintained a great position and a continual presence inside the paint, which caused problems for the Hokies defense. The Hokie bigs were outmatched in the frontcourt and were beat on the glass due to the positioning the Boston College big men had down low. The Hokies defense was sluggish and slow to get rebounds defensively. That led to them falling victim to the Eagles outstanding rebound margin, where they are outrebounding opponents by over three boards a game (3rd in the ACC).

For most of the game, it did not matter much who guarded Karnik. Not even Aluma could contain the Boston College center, yet Mike Young and the Hokies did not elect to bring a double team on Karnik until the eight-minute mark of the second half. The Hokies were often late in bringing help on defense when they needed to. Part of Karnik’s great positioning inside was due in part to the Hokies defense letting him get so deep in the paint before they picked him up. They were late on rotating to help in the pick-and-roll game, and Karnik took advantage.

Hokie guard Nahiem Alleyne was one who noticeably struggled on the defensive as well as the offensive end of the floor. Alleyne was mismatched on defense while guarding Langford Jr., and he was beat badly on a drive to the basket by point guard Makai Ashton-Langford. Offensively, aside from the game against Notre Dame when Alleyne went off for 22 points on 8 of 10 shooting, he has continued to shoot poorly this season. He was 3 of 10 (2 of 6 from 3PT range) from the field Saturday and has hit 6 of his last 24 shots (4 of 15 from 3PT range) going back to the game last week against NC State.

Defensively, Alleyne was often late on his rotations. Around the 18-minute mark of the second half, the Hokies looked confused on a Karnik pick-and-roll. Alleyne should have dropped down from his position on the wing to help in the post, but he was late to help even after Murphy gave Karnik a bump to slow him up.

For Boston College, Ashton-Langford was a player to watch coming into the game and he did not disappoint with 18 points for the Eagles. There would be times where the BC offense would break down and it would find Aston-Langford late in the shot clock or after a long offensive rebound and he would go to work. He was effective off the dribble and would hit a shot or draw a foul to capitalize on the opportunity to break the backs of the Hokie defenders.

Offense Struggles to Score Again

Apart from Hunter Cattoor’s hot shooting and Aluma’s 21 points, the Hokies struggled offensively. Cattoor could not get open late in the game with Boston College scheming for him defensively, and Storm Murphy was almost non-existent yet again. He continued to show a passivity to attacking the rim. There were flashes of what he could do as a finisher if he took the ball to the basket more by taking his defender off the dribble, but there were more moments during the game where he passed up an open lane to the rim to pass instead.

I am not quite sure if it is a confidence issue for Murphy or an unwillingness to drive for fear of getting his shot blocked like he did by Langford Jr. early on in the game. At the start of the second half, Murphy came off a Mutts hand off near the top of arc and there was no help side defense. This left Murphy with the whole right wing to himself. Instead of driving, he waited for Aluma to flash under the basket. Aluma popped back out and went to Murphy again who did drive this time, but he went for the finger roll instead of using the glass and wound up missing what should have been a relatively easy layup attempt.

Another moment came in the first half when Murphy had a mismatch at around the 3-minute mark in the first half. A screen was set for him by John Ojiako and the Eagles’ defense switched to have Karnik on him. Murphy needed to take advantage of the mismatch with it being so late in the shot clock. Instead, he waited and tried to feed the ball to Ojiako in the post. Granted, Ojiako had a mismatch himself with Ashton-Langford on him, but it was too late in the shot clock for Ojiako to do anything with the ball.

What can be done about Murphy’s passiveness? Maybe more minutes could be given to backup point guard Sean Pedulla, who appeared at times to give the Hokies a spark off the bench like he has for most of this year. He showed more of an aggressiveness on offense as he was willing to take the ball into the paint. However, Pedulla is undersized compared to most guards. He also struggled defensively, but then again, so did most of the team.

The offense remained stagnant at the end of Saturday’s game because the Hokies steered away from what was working for them on that end of the floor. Yes, Karnik played decently well against Aluma down low, but Aluma still had 21. Boston College’s defense would also be late in their rotations, which allowed the Hokies to take advantage at times.

An off-ball screen would be set at the elbow or near the elbow, and Aluma or Mutts would slip down and the Eagles would not rotate properly. Broadcaster Mike Gminski brought up how Mike Young had encouraged Mutts to go on the attack when he had the ball down low on the block. Mutts did this a couple of times, but his frustrations were marked by his four points for the game and four fouls.

Late Game Moments

Even though the Hokies were getting beat on the glass and defensively, they actually had the lead until BC took its first lead of the game with 14:19 left. The score continued to stay close until the end of the game. Leading by one, the Eagles had the ball with 1:51 left. They maintained possession of the ball through their timeout with 1:25 left. In that time, they had gobbled up four offensive rebounds. Ashton-Langford missed a jumper, and the Hokies got the ball on their side of the court and called a timeout with 1:04 left.

Next possession, a pick was set by Mutts down low to draw Alleyne out at the corner three spot near the Hokie bench, but Alleyne missed everything and hit the side of the backboard. The rebound bounced back out to Murphy with no reset on the shot clock because the ball did not hit the rim. Murphy dribbled into the corner and was double teamed with around eight seconds left on the shot clock. Aluma had faded off of his screen when he needed to cut. There was a wide-open lane to the basket, but Aluma stayed outside the three-point arc where he missed a wide open three pointer.

On the rebound from Aluma’s missed shot, Bickerstaff dribbled up the court on a fastbreak for the Eagles and dished it to Jaeden Zackery who made the layup to put the Eagles up three, 66-63 with 33 seconds left. Murphy dribbled the ball down the court on the following Hokies possession. Off a pick, he took a three off the dribble early in the shot clock and his shot bounced off the side of the rim. Bickerstaff was fouled after getting the rebound from Murphy’s missed three and he went to the line to ice it for the Eagles.

Next up for the Hokies, they will have their hands full trying to contain Armando Bacot (averaging 11.3 rebounds a game) and the Tar Heels as they go to battle Monday at 8PM. Tech will be hoping Bacot does not have the type of game he did against UVA, when he put up video game numbers scoring 29 points and grabbing 21 rebounds, and likely scheming more to contain him given how he's a much more proven big man compared to Karnik.

The Hokies will need to be alert and tough on the defensive boards and the other starters have to pick it up to support Aluma and Cattoor if Tech is going to have a chance.

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