On a night with refs who called the game like they were the stars of a Broadway show, Virginia Tech missed too many shots inside 5-7 feet on their way to a 69-61 loss to #9 Memphis that was closer than the final score suggested.
The loss for the Hokies drops them to 5-1 on the season with Tech facing #25 Xavier in the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off Friday night at 7pm while Memphis will face Iowa State in the title game.
Tech's shooting woes were the biggest issues for the Hokies as they had an awful shooting night going 19-56 (33.9%) from the field including 12-34 inside the arc and 7-21 from behind the arc. Additionally, Tech didn't their best free-throw night going 16-22 from the line making just over 70% of their free throws.
Tech had 9 first half turnovers but cleaned it up in the second half with only 4 more while Memphis also had only 4 second half turnovers after 10 in the first half. However, Tech failed to take advantage with only 3 points off turnovers. Additionally, Memphis dominated the glass with 15 offensive rebounds compared to 9 for Tech which they turned into a 12-7 second chance points advantage.
Tech did have a solid defensive night especially with their perimeter defense as Memphis only shot 39.3% from the field including only 5-19 from three-point range as Tech's defense was quite solid even with all of Tech's starters except Hunter Cattoor playing 36 or more minutes. That type of gritty defense would have been rewarded if only a couple more of the multitude of misses inside 5 feet would have dropped.
There's no doubt that Tech showed more skill and finesse in many ways that you would expect from an older team and drew way more fouls from Memphis, but the raw talent of the younger and deeper Tigers proved to make a big difference in the end.
Nahiem Alleyne led the way for the Hokies with a solid 21-point outing on a poor 4-14 shooting, but he did well still at getting to the free-throw line to balance that out going 10-11 from the line. Alleyne also added 4 rebounds and 4 assists with only 2 turnovers as he was probably Tech's best player on the night.
Keve Aluma had a rough offensive game as though he had 14 points, he did so on a poor 5-17 shooting while also only getting to the line a few times going 3-4 at the free-throw line. Aluma did add 11 rebounds, but his inability to either be more efficient given his volume or draw more fouls proved costly for Tech tonight.
Justyn Mutts provided a gritty performance with 7 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists while Hunter Cattoor had 9 points and 3 rebounds. Storm Murphy had a tough night to say the least as he had only 5 points on 2-8 shooting with 6 turnovers as he never seemed to find any sort of rhythm in this game.
Meanwhile, Memphis was led surprisingly by DeAndre Williams who had 16 points taking the lead from star freshmen Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren who only had 15 points total after averaging over 25 points between the 2 of them entering tonight.
The Tigers also benefitted from Florida State-like depth with 12 players touching the floor and 10 scoring, and 10 players total playing at least 8 minutes. In comparison, Darius Maddox was the only non-starter to play more than 4 minutes with 5 points in 15 minutes of action while David N'Guessan, John Ojiako, and Sean Pedulla played very limited minutes.
Tech fought through a sloppy first half in part caused my an insane amount of fouls and found some rhythm as the game progressed, but the Hokies just couldn't make shots around the rim to save themselves. In the end, there are still plenty of positives from the resiliency and the offensive improvement throughout combined with an untypically poor shooting night, but Tech will need their depth to improve especially in the frontcourt along with better offensive rebounding going forward.
The good news for Tech is that this will be a good loss that does boost the strength of schedule while they also still have a chance to pick up a quality win against #25 Xavier on Friday night.
Overall, this is definitely a tough loss and the Hokies have some things to fix and clean up, but Tech outplayed Memphis in many ways if you watched the game and if they only either made a couple of the 10-12+ misses inside 5 feet, Tech likely has a top 10 win on their resume and is playing for the NIT Season Tip-Off title on Friday night.