After back-to-back wins at Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, Virginia Tech had lots of momentum as they headed to Louisville in search of their best win of the season. Meanwhile, the Cardinals had their own momentum after a major comeback win at Florida State this past week.
After having no more than 10 turnovers in each of the past two games, the Hokies had some major turnover issues that proved costly.
Virginia Tech fell to Louisville 94-86 to drop to 13-5 overall on the season including 2-3 in the ACC. The Hokies now have a week off before facing Florida State at home next Saturday in what doesn't feel far from being a must win with UNC two days later and VT lacking a quality win.
Turnovers were a problem for both teams today as the Hokies had 19 while Louisville had 15, numbers that neither coach will see as anywhere close to being acceptable. VT's assist numbers were also down with only 11 as though the Hokies had some quality ball movement, their ball movement wasn't as good as it has been the past two games (but better than against Syracuse and UVA).
The three-point shooting gap also loomed large as the Hokies went 8-22 from 3 while the Cardinals went 13-23 from 3 with VT giving up a few too many open shooters. VT shot the ball overall shooting 49.2% from the field, but the Cardinals were better at 52.5%. VT's free-throw shooting was quite good as VT went 18-22 from the line while having 10 offensive rebounds compared to 11 for Louisville. VT also took advantage of those second chance opportunities with 16 points compared to 15 for Louisville.
Justin Robinson had an up-and-down game as his play was sloppy early on but down the stretch, Robinson cleaned up his game and helped keep the Hokies in it on his way to a career-high 23 points. Robinson was consistently effective at attacking the rim, but his 3 assists and 5 turnovers were a disappointment given his improved recent play with 17 assists the previous two games.
Robinson will be critical to the Hokies' success and if Robinson isn't playing sloppy basketball, VT usually isn't either. However, Robinson showed how he can be that focal point down the stretch in tight games similar to Seth Allen last year.
Kerry Blackshear had a strong first half with 14 points and 6 rebounds, but was quiet offensively in the second half on his way to finishing with 18 points. However, Blackshear continued to be effective on the glass finishing with 12 rebounds. Blackshear's improved play has been a big reason why the Hokies have been more effective on the glass outside of the Wake Forest game.
Ahmed Hill had 17 points and 3 rebounds on 6-11 shooting including 2-5 from three. Hill only had 1 turnover, the lowest among the main six-man rotation for VT while he continued to quietly be productive offensively with those 17 points.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker had a career high 4 steals in addition to 10 points as the freshman guard forced some mistakes from Louisville especially early in the first half. Justin Bibbs had 9 points and 5 rebounds on 4-10 shooting while Chris Clarke had 8 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds, but also had a turnover problem with 4 turnovers.
Tyrie Jackson, Wabissa Bede, and Devin Wilson all played limited minutes with Wilson having a turnover and a foul, and Jackson missing a three-point attempt.
The loss was a tough one for Virginia Tech and puts more pressure on the Hokies' upcoming home stand against Florida State and North Carolina. Nine ACC wins would likely have VT right on the bubble while 10 would likely put VT in the NCAA Tournament without too much worry. In order to do that, the Hokies need to get at least 6 home victories and need to win at least one of these games against FSU and UNC, if not both.
Turnovers were a problem for the Hokies but one that they've shown they can be better at. However, the bigger issue may be their three-point shooting defense that was a problem once again and is the worst in the ACC.
With players like Deng Adel going 4-6 from 3 after averaging under 30% from beyond the arc entering this game, it's clear that Virginia Tech has some work to do on the defensive end or else they'll have to become a hyper efficient offensive team, something we've only seen against weaker non-conference competition.
It may be tempting to push the panic button after the Hokies lost a game that they had a shot at, especially with VT already buried on the bubble. However, the closing stretch is loaded with opportunities to pick up lots of quality wins and if VT can at least finish .500 in ACC play, they'll give themselves a great chance at returning to the NCAA Tournament in a year where anything less than that would be a failure.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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