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Virginia Tech PG Rodney Rice Starting to Show His Potential

Rodney Rice 1 VT Duke 2023 MS
Will Locklin | @locklin_will
Writer/Basketball Analyst

There weren’t many bright spots in Virginia Tech’s brutal road loss to Duke on Saturday night. One of them, however, was the play of freshman guard Rodney Rice, who finished with 11 points and made three big shots for the Hokies from behind the arc.

Rice was held out of Tech’s first 16 games due to injury before making his debut in the Hokies' loss to Syracuse at the JMA Wireless Dome. Rice scored a mere two points and then was shut down for an additional 10 games due to a broken finger in his right hand suffered during practice after the game.

Rice returned to the floor versus Miami in a game where he shot 0-3 from the floor and didn’t crack the scorecard. In Tech’s latest loss though, Rice was a bit of a spark plug to what was an otherwise lifeless offense against Duke.

“I was calm throughout the game. Let the game flow to me and make as many plays as I can with the opportunity I got.” Rodney Rice told reporters postgame at Duke.

So how did he do it? Let's take a look.

Rice received 22 minutes of action against the Blue Devils. When he plays, Mike Young often sets up Rice as the point guard and the guy who brings the ball up the floor. Sometimes he will immediately pass it to another guard to start an action but Young gives Rice the freedom to set up some of Tech’s offense.

In this play, Rice flips the ball to fellow freshman guard MJ Collins, who stumbles coming off the screen and needs an outlet to pass. Meanwhile, Rice actively moves without the ball, wrapping around Hunter Cattoor and his defender before exchanging a handoff with Collins. Duke goes under the screen and Rice makes them pay, setting his feet square and hitting a movement three from a couple feet behind the arc.

Rice made another catch and shot three late in the second half. ESPN’s camera crew filmed Kyle Filipowski heading to the bench instead of the lead-up to the shot but we get to see Rice pull into another three and knock it down.

From the play-by-play, the shot was assisted by Collins so it was most likely a spot-up three that Rice shot right off the catch. Regardless, Rice shoots a smooth release and confidently holds that follow through as the ball swishes through the net.

That may be a sign of Rice starting to find his rhythm now that he's been able to play in back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“It’s only my third game. I've been practicing more, getting into rhythm and getting my feet under me. It still hasn’t completely gotten there but it’s coming together for sure.” Rice said.

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The play that got Virginia Tech fans on Twitter buzzing was when Rice set up Filipowski with a filthy move and hit the shot over him while getting fouled. Here, Rice takes a hard jab right that gets Filipowski to bite that way and knocks his feet off balance. He then cradles the ball from right to left with a crossover dribble and plants his right foot hard onto the court.

Rice propels himself into a stepback and Filipowski lunges his body into Rice’s shooting motion. Impressively, Rice gets through enough of the shot motion to sink the three. He was fouled on his way down but missed the free throw that would’ve completed a four-point play opportunity.

That's high-caliber shot making though with Rice also having the confidence to make tough shots like that.

“I’m a shot creator at the end of the day. I can be a point guard and a playmaker too. I can make difficult shots as well,” Rice said. “That’s my normal game, even without a crowd those are the shots I take.”

In Rice’s final notable clip, he continues to use his creative ball handling to carve a lane to the rim. Rice brings the ball up the floor as Tech’s point guard and gets a screen set from Grant Basile to work with. Duke switches Filipowski out onto Rice and he takes full advantage.

Rice uses a stutter step hesitation dribble to freeze his defender before crossing over from left to right and attacking downhill. Rice’s angle on his drive is cut off but he sneakily draws contact from Filiwposki and goes to the free throw line where he connects on both shots.

As you can see from all of these clips, it's not just that Rice is finding his own rhythm, but he's also getting more comfortable in Tech's offense with the live reps he's getting.

“I had 11 minutes last game. I’ve been working my way up. It will probably increase more as I come along. I’m just trying to stay comfortable and help this team win.” Rice said.

Although it’s just a few clips from one game, Rice brought the flashes to the table that many Tech fans knew he was capable of making. He was a talented shooter, ball handler and shot creator in high school who did it against good competition. While his freshman season has had its fair share of struggles due to injury, more development from Rice in the Hokies offense is a good sign for the future.

If the freshman can continue to his shots from the outside and be a spark plug scorer off the bench, he will surely see significant playing time as Tech wraps up the regular season and heads to Greensboro looking to make another magical run in the ACC Tournament.

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