Three Thoughts on Virginia Tech's 76-65 Loss to #2 Duke

Three Thoughts on Virginia Tech's 76-65 Loss to #2 Duke
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Dec 22, 2021

Virginia Tech showed what they can be at their peak with an impressive first half and a 36-32 halftime lead, but #2 Duke showed why they are a national title favorite with a 29-9 second half run after Tech led 40-32 early in the final 20 minutes to get the win.

Here are 3 of my postgame thoughts from the Hokies' 76-65 loss to Duke.

1. Virginia Tech Showed Their Ceiling in the First Half

While there may be plenty of disappointment among fans with the final result, there's no doubt that Virginia Tech showed what their ceiling is in the first 24 minutes of this game reminding us why this team can make a deep NCAA Tournament run and could be Duke's toughest challenger in the ACC this year.

Virginia Tech's defense slowed down in the second half and their three-point shooting was a little off, but a lot of that was due to the fact that when Duke is at their best, this is probably the best team in the country with the nation's most talented player in Paolo Banchero.

Tech's first half was an inside-out show led by a dominant performance from Keve Aluma who had 17 first half points and was the star of the opening 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Tech's play was solid around him not just with Justyn Mutts but with the backcourt especially Storm Murphy who once again showed why he was an All-SoCon First Teamer last season with a pair of big threes and high competence initiating the offense.

Aluma also has found his best form of late playing like one of the ACC Player of the Year favorites with a dominant first half where he, and not Paolo Banchero, was the biggest star on the floor. Having a dominant, veteran frontcourt in Aluma and Mutts is the type of thing that will pay dividends in March when you need tough buckets in the paint down the stretch of games.

Tech also showed loads of mental toughness in the first half after Duke's opening 13-4 run fighting back with a 9-0 run of their own without Mike Young having to call a timeout. While their depth concerns caused them to wear down and make their fight back less effective, what's definitely clear is that this team knows how to fight for 40 minutes regardless of the circumstances and when they aren't worn down, turn that into runs.

Virginia Tech may have had a mini-rut during some of their non-conference slate, but the Hokies showed tonight why this team absolutely still has what it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

2. Paolo Banchero Is Special

I've gotten to see some very talented players in person over the past several years, but there may be no one as good as Paolo Banchero especially with what I saw in the second half.

As Mike Young said it well, "goodness gracious."

Banchero knew that it was "winning time" as he told us after the game, and it showed as he had 15 second half points and he was the igniter of Duke's 13-0 run and larger 29-9 run with some dazzling buckets and assists. His strong second half gave him 20+ points for the third time in four games against major conference opponents with Banchero also breaking that mark against Gonzaga and Kentucky, and failing to do so in Duke's lone loss to Ohio State.

There was an energy and attack that Banchero brought in the second half that combined with his skill and impressive athletic traits allowed him to dictate and completely flip the momentum of this game launching the 13-0 run and the greater 29-9 run that saw Duke go from down 8 to up 12.

It takes a special type of player to do that against a very good, veteran team like Virginia Tech without the Hokies being the ones to help hand it to them, and that's mostly what we saw with Banchero in the second half asserting himself.

With Paolo Banchero, the substance of his potential may actually outlive the hype and performances like tonight are a big reason why he's considered the current favorite to be the #1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

3. Hokies Need More From Their Backcourt, Three-Point Shooting

Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts both had big nights with 45 points on 18-34 shooting plus 19 rebounds, 6 assists, and only 3 turnovers. That's the type of frontcourt performance that should win games for Tech almost every time.

While Duke is still a whole different level, the fact is that the Hokies will need some better backcourt play and especially better three-point shooting going forward.

Nahiem Alleyne continues to be in a funk with 0 points on 0-4 shooting in 27 minutes though he still made some plays with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Tech needs Alleyne to break his funk quickly going forward while they'll need more from Hunter Cattoor and Storm Murphy who were okay overall, but both failed to break the 40% shooting mark as Cattoor was 4-10 and Murphy was 3-8 with neither getting to the free-throw line to balance that out.

Darius Maddox and Sean Pedulla also didn't provide much shooting as Maddox with 1-3 and Pedulla was 0-1 with Tech's backcourt combining for only 20 of their 65 points.

Finishing 5-19 from three-point range as a whole isn't going to cut it either especially when you have a second half when you go 1-9 from three. While Tech has the frontcourt standouts in Aluma and Mutts to be able to win without shooting 40%+ from three-point range, shooting under 30% from behind the arc is still going to be tough to overcome.

Virginia Tech will need Nahiem Alleyne especially to pick up his form while Cattoor and Murphy need to be a little more efficient whether that's making more shots or turning some of their misses into trips to the free-throw line.

The positive for Tech is that they still battled right there on a night where the backcourt was a mixed bag of performances. Additionally, Storm Murphy is starting to show how good he can be for the Hokies in ACC play and is starting to find his stride at just the right time with an important game at North Carolina looming.