There was lots of excitement surrounding Jalen Cone entering the season but while he has been solid so far, he had been quiet relative to the hopes of Virginia Tech fans That quiet portion is no longer the case as Cone had his coming out party at Syracuse with 16 second half points to lead Virginia Tech to an impressive road victory.
Virginia Tech beat Syracuse 67-63 with a 16-2 second half run and Cone's strong second half proving to be the difference in the Carrier Dome. With the result, the Hokies improve to 11-4 overall including 2-2 in ACC play while Syracuse falls to 8-7 including 1-3 in ACC play.
The Hokies weren't great early in this game and finished 10-36 from three-point range including 5-29 from players not named Jalen Cone. However, Tech stuck in the fight and after struggling early with the zone, found ways to attack the baseline and create space with Jalen Cone taking advantage of it.
Overall, Tech's offense had a solid performance with an impressive 20 assists on 21 made shots while shooting a respectable 42% against the Syracuse zone. Tech also had only 11 turnovers, impressive for a team with 6 freshmen facing this defense for the first time. Most surprising may be the fact that the Hokies weren't dominated on the glass despite Syracuse's size advantage with 7 offensive rebounds compared to 9 for the Orange, a margin that is smaller than most would have expected.
However, there's no doubt that the story of this game is the impressive performance of Jalen Cone who, after having 16 second half points, finished with 19 points overall while shooting 5-7 from three-point range, 4-4 at the free-throw line, and having a pair of four-point plays. Cone gained more and more confidence as the half went along as Mike Young allowed Cone to worked off the ball, a place where he seemed more comfortable with Wabissa Bede next to him running the point.
The aforementioned Bede was that high-quality ball distributor tonight with 9 assists, 2 steals, 2 points, and 3 turnovers as he ran the show well operating a lot around the free-throw line in the heart of the Syracuse zone.
Landers Nolley didn't have a very efficient night, but still finished with 13 points despite 4-14 shooting including 1-11 from three-point range. More importantly may have been how Nolley was involved in a multitude of ways with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover; a great step in the right direction against a tough defense for the star redshirt freshman.
P.J. Horne's ability to make mid-range shots on the baseline made a big difference in the second half as Horne went 5-8 overall from the field finishing with 12 points and 2 rebounds. Tyrece Radford nearly had a double-double with 7 points and 9 rebounds, tied for the best among all players despite being one of the smallest players on the court tonight.
Nahiem Alleyne had 6 points and 3 rebounds on a 2-6 three-point shooting night while Hunter Cattoor had a rough night with 3 points and 3 assists on 1-7 shooting from three-point range. Isaiah Wilkins had 3 points and 3 rebounds off the bench while John Ojiako had 2 points and 2 rebounds off the bench.
Elijah Hughes led the way with Syracuse with 16 points and 4 rebounds, but the Hokies were able to hold him to 6-16 shooting on the night. More importantly, Tech held Buddy Boeheim and Joseph Girard III to inefficient nights with Boeheim scoring 10 points on 4-12 shooting and Girard scoring 10 on 4-11 shooting. Quincy Guerrier was the efficient balancing point for the Orange with 12 points and 9 rebounds on 5-7 shooting.
This game will be remembered as the coming out party for Jalen Cone that Hokie fans have been waiting for ever since he became the Hokies' biggest commitment in Mike Young's first recruiting class.
More importantly though may be the maturity and resilience Tech showed on the road against a unique Syracuse zone defense on a night where Tech struggled offensive for the first 25+ minutes of the game. The fact that is a team that plays 6 freshmen in their nine-players says a lot about not only their aforementioned maturity that goes well beyond their age, but also Mike Young's leadership and ability to instill confidence in his team.
While Jalen Cone's performance will rightfully define this game, it's that resilience and maturity that Virginia Tech showed that could prove most valuable going forward in ACC play.