Entering this past week of college basketball, there were plenty of doubts surrounding the performance of Virginia Tech in true road games and rightfully so give their performance.
Up to that week, Virginia Tech was a poor 1-3 in 4 true road games, but their performances in those games raised more red flags.
First, the Hokies had a pair of road losses on the road at a pair of top 10 teams in North Carolina and Virginia. Now that was likely expected given the caliber of competition, but it was the way they lost as the Hokies lost both games by 20+ points, a major red flag for a team that was in the top 10 entering both of those games.
Second, the Hokies' only win came against a Georgia Tech team that they only beat 52-49 on a night when their offense struggled mightily. Now Georgia Tech's defense has been a strength, and the character of the win was a major positive, but for their only road win to be a nail-biter over a GT team that is a borderline NIT team at best and lost at home to Gardner-Webb wasn't great.
Third and worst of all, the Hokies' nightmare at Penn State. Granted, it was clear that the Hokies decided to not show up, but that's a terrible excuse for a team with a trio of senior starters plus a redshirt junior (and now graduate student) and a sophomore with lottery pick aspirations.
On paper, the Hokies had the type of talent and veteran experience that should be a recipe for road success. Instead, the Hokies' road performance had been a major red flag that raised doubts about how good this team really is going into a week with road games at Miami and No. 23 N.C. State.
Going into this week, the Hokies were well aware of the talk among media and fans doubting Virginia Tech's ability to perform on the road.
"I do remember people doubting us on the road. Comments were being made. We had two bad losses to two great teams, and people thought well, we're just a home team, we can't defend. We just used everything that the media said and we tried not to focus on that, but at some point it might be true if everything is saying it over and over. So we just focused in more, stuck to our principles that we had in non-conference and played our game," Nickeil Alexander-Walker said after VT's win at N.C. State.
One week later, those rumblings of doubt surrounding Virginia Tech's ability to perform away from Cassell Coliseum have disappeared thanks to a pair of dominant victories.
It started Wednesday night at Miami with the Hokies getting off to a slow start with so-so play on both ends that led to reasonable doubts including from our good friend and reporter Henry Skutt (sorry Henry but yours is the one reasonable early assessment tweet I can remember).
Then, the Hokies had a 10-0 run that opened up the game with the Hokies keeping the lead in double digits for all but 13 seconds of the second half and at a minimum of 7 points for every second after the 10-0 run on their way to a 82-70 victory over the Hurricanes.
While that win was a step in the right direction for quieting questions about their road performance, it didn't take away all of the questions. Most of that came from the reasonable fact that Miami is arguably the worst team in the ACC, fell to 9-11 overall (including 1-7 in the ACC) with the loss, and was a team that had depth issues even if they are definitely not as bad as the Hokies.
Combine that with the injury suffered by Justin Robinson
, questions were still there and may have even grown especially if VT had to go on the road without their senior point guard to calm the storm at times.
That gave Virginia Tech a chance to make a real road statement Saturday against a top 25 team in N.C. State and inside a full PNC Arena brimming with energy throughout the game. Doubts were high especially as Robinson was in a boot, making it clear that VT would need Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede to be the primary initiators of the offense.
While the Hokies had plenty of rough moments, including a sloppy start with 5 points in the first 10 minutes and 9 first half turnovers, Virginia Tech put together one of their best second half performances on their way to arguably their most impressive win of the season.
As everyone knows, No. 23 N.C. State would only score 24 points as the Hokies beat the Wolfpack by 23 in a game where the Hokies had basically a six-man rotation that didn't include Justin Robinson.
The biggest thing may have been the fact that the Wolfpack did have some momentum early in the secone half cutting the Hokies' lead to 3. However, instead of folding and falling apart as we saw at North Carolina when VT didn't have Robinson or Alexander-Walker on the floor, the Hokies fought back and went on an 11-0 run. From there, VT stiffened up on defense holding N.C. State to only 5 points over the final 17 minutes and cruising away to a dominant 23-point victory that never felt close even as the PNC Arena crowd tried to rally their team to start making some shots.
While N.C. State's poor shooting was obviously a big reason for the loss, especially with how they missed several easy and/or open shots in the first half, the Hokies were dominant overall only having 3 second half turnovers, showing improvement even when things could have fallen apart after a first half that lacked in moments for encouragement without having Robinson on the floor or a home crowd to help rally the team.
To recap, the Hokies not only beat a lower-tier ACC team on the road as they were supposed, but then blew out a top 25 team in their building without Justin Robinson and only a six-man rotation.
In a week where adversity creeped up in ways likely expected and unexpected, Virginia Tech not only passed a pair of road tests but silenced all doubts that they can be consistent in their play away from Blacksburg, putting together a pair of dominant road performances including a historic performance built on defensive dominance and enforcing their will on the game's tempo without their star point guard to control it.
Yeah, I would say they were more focused on playing basketball than outside analysis.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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