Virginia Tech looked more like the team that beat UVA, Duke, and UNC earlier this season than the one that was swept by Boston College and lost at Georgia Tech. However, Tech didn't have enough offensive firepower to stave off a #13 Miami team that didn't have their best offensive night thanks in part to Tech's defense, but still did enough to get the job done.
#13 Miami beat Virginia Tech 76-70 with the Hokies falling to 16-12 on the season including 6-11 in ACC play while the Hurricanes improved to 23-5 including 14-4 in ACC play.
The Hurricanes had five in double figures led by Norchad Omier who was dominant with 17 points plus 14 rebounds with 6 being offensive rebounds while Nijel Pack had 16 and Isaiah Wong had 13. Meanwhile, Sean Pedulla had a game-high 17 points plus 6 rebounds while Hunter Cattoor added 15 including his 1,000th career point plus 6 rebounds 4 assists, and, 4 steals. Grant Basile added 13 points and 4 rebounds while Justyn Mutts had 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists with Lynn Kidd having 9 first half points.
1. Shooting Disparity and Fast Breaks Hurt VT
There were two clear things that stood out as to why Virginia Tech lost to Miami this evening: the shooting disparity and fast breaks.
On the first, this isn't about shooting percentages but rather the fact that Miami had 8 more shots than the Hokies and was on pace to take about 10 more shots than the Hokies prior to Tech fouling the Canes heavily in the closing minute in a last ditch effort to turn this game around.
A lot of that was due to the fact that Miami had a 14-7 offensive rebounding advantage. Though Tech stunningly held a 9-3 second chance points advantage, that still helps give them more shots in the aggregate and even when Miami isn't shooting at their normal percentages, that still isn't going to end well. The aforementioned Norchad Omier played a big part of that with 6 offensive rebounds himself that gave Tech issues all night long.
The Canes did only have 1 fewer turnover than the Hokies 12-11 but there were times where it seemed like one turnover led to another the other direction which didn't help either.
Meanwhile, the Canes also used the fast break well and just their quickness on the dribble in general to create some buckets. The Hurricanes held a 9-4 advantage in fast break points in this game while Nijel Pack especially was impressive attacking the Hokies on the dribble with multiple impressive drives to the rim where his quickness simply made the difference.
There were other issues as well including the Hokies shooting only 33.3% (9-27) from three-point range and missing several good looks, but those two areas will be ones that Tech wishes they were at least slightly better in some regards.
2. Encouraging Defensive Performance
One encouraging thing for this team tonight is the fact that their defense was much better as they held the #13 Hurricanes to only 42.2% (27-64) shooting including 31.8% (7-22) from three-point range. This comes in comparison with a Miami team that was shooting 48.7% from the field (15th best in the country) including 36.9% from three-point range (45th best in the country) holding the Canes 5%+ under their season averages.
Combine that with forcing 11 turnovers including 6 steals which they turned into 13 points off turnovers and there's plenty to be encouraged by on the defensive end despite their poor rebounding night.
If you would have told Mike Young pregame that his team would hold Miami 5%+ under their season shooting averages, he would have thought Tech would have won, but was quick to recognize the weaknesses tonight that cost the Hokies despite their strong defense.
"I thought we would've won. And then the rebounding statistic, that's significant. They had 8 more shots than we did at the half, only 4 for the game. I would have thought we were in the money if that's what we have. We had a good plan, kids worked their tails off, just couldn't quite make the necessary plays to win it," Young said.
Even with the disappointment of this loss, the defensive performance is something that players and coaches can take encouragement in. While there's still disappointment from the loss that frustrates, Sean Pedulla also was encouraged by some perimeter defensive things that have improved and carried on from Saturday's win over Pittsburgh.
"I think it's just more of like the Pitt game, just getting the shooters on the catch, that part is encouraging, but it's kind of hard to look at the positive once you lost another one like that," Pedulla said. "The emphasis on getting the shooters on the catch and making it hard for them to get easy looks is a positive."
If Tech can keep up the defensive improvement, there's no reason why the Hokies can't go on a winning streak over the next couple of weeks to at least sure up a postseason floor of the NIT.
3. Short-Term Focus Even As It's Greensboro or Bust
Losing to Miami won't be the reason why Virginia Tech will miss the NCAA Tournament if they don't win the ACC Tournament, but a loss tonight seemed to cut off their final, albeit very slim, path to an at-large bid in March Madness.
For fans, that means the focus shifts to two weeks from now in Greensboro as the Hokies will have the chance to defend their ACC Tournament crown, and will have to if they want to play in March Madness.
For Mike Young, the focus remains on trying to get his team to playing their basketball right now starting with their trip to Duke on Saturday
"We still got 3 to go starting at Duke and great opportunities. Let's go play it and play well," Young said.
That refrain was echoed by veteran leader Hunter Cattoor following this tough loss for the Hokies.
"You always want to start playing your best basketball in February and March. We got three games left in the regular season. We're going to worry about those and then get ready for the (ACC) Tournament," Cattoor said. "I think our mindset is that we're going to take tomorrow off, get our bodies ready. And then get ready for practice on Thursday and Friday, and get ready to beat a Duke team. I don't think we're worried about the (ACC) Tournament yet, we still got three games to play, and try to get our team better in those games."
It may be Greensboro or bust for the Hokies' NCAA Tournament hopes at this point, but the focus remains on the next three games and stepping their game up in those so that when it comes time for the ACC Tournament, they'll be in their best form because they were focused on the now and not the later.