Virginia Tech and #8 Kentucky faced off in a hard-fought game on both sides, but turnovers and cold shooting down the stretch proved to be the Hokies’ downfall. Kentucky was able to escape with a 93-86 victory.
It was a tale of two halves in this matchup. The Hokies had the edge at halftime, scoring 47 points while holding Kentucky to 41. However, Kentucky clearly made better adjustments at halftime, outscoring the Hokies 52-39 in the 2nd half.
The keys to the game was three-point shooting and turnovers. Virginia Tech came into this game second in the country in three-point percentage, while Kentucky was last in three-point attempts. It was thought that the Hokies would outshoot the Wildcats, while Kentucky pounded the ball inside. However, Kentucky made 11 threes while Virginia Tech made only 10, 7 of which came in the first half.
Buzz Williams’ game plan defensively was to force Kentucky to shoot outside shots. The Hokies executed this plan, but the Wildcats knocked down their shots anyway.
The Hokies also had turnover problems with 19 total while Kentucky had only 11. Turnovers proved to be critical in the outcome, something that Kentucky's John Calipari said won his team the game.
Despite being shut down from the outside in the second half, the Hokies were still able to score points. Center Kerry Blackshear, Jr. was paramount for VT in the second half. He finished with 18 points, most of which came after halftime. Kentucky is much larger down low than the Hokies, making Blackshear’s performance more impressive.
Leading the Hokies in scoring today was junior Ahmed Hill with 20. Other notable performances came from Justin Robinson, who had 19 points and 9 assists, and Justin Bibbs with 12 points.
For the Wildcats, their scoring output was led by Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo. Knox finished with 21 while Diallo had 20. Also big for Kentucky was backup guard Quade Green, who scored 17 off the bench.
One matchup that many fans anticipated was between VT’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker and UK’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. These two freshmen are cousins and former high school teammates, so many expected them to have memorable performances. However, this was not the case, as they only combined for 15 points and were non-factors down the stretch.
Another big surprise came from the two coaches’ unreliance on their bench. Each team only had eight players see the floor, and the starters were on the floor for most of the game. In particular, Williams only gave significant playing time to six players. Chris Clarke led the bench in minutes played with 31, but the next highest was Devin Wilson with 10. In addition, Tyrie Jackson played just one minute, while Wabissa Bede and PJ Horne never left their seats. This goes to show that while Tech’s freshmen have a lot of promise, they still have some growing to do before they can contribute in big games.
Though they squandered a halftime lead, Virginia Tech made a statement today. They showed that they can find ways to score and stay in games even when the threes aren’t there. The fact that they were able to go down to the wire with a championship-level team on the road is impressive. ACC teams should be on alert, because these Hokies are primed to do some damage.
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on Virginia Tech. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our email updates.