Wind: 1.01 m/h
Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Virginia Tech saw its men's basketball season come to an end in the NCAA Tournament today, and it was somewhat similar to the way the Hokies saw their time at the ACC Tournament finish: They started strong with great ball movement, tough defense and timely outside shooting to lead at the half, but then hit a stretch in the final 7 minutes of the game where the defense got tired, the shots stopped dropping, and Florida pulled out a 75-70 overtime win.
It was a game of mixed emotions if you’re a Hokie fan. This was only year 2 of the Mike Young coaching experience, and after a surprising .500 season in year 1, this was supposed to be the next step toward establishing an identity that got them into the NCAAs in year 3.
At times – like in the first half – Virginia Tech looked far ahead of schedule. Tough defense caused Florida to act confused, turning the ball over 8 times (Florida would have 18 turnovers in the game), including several on shot clock violations. The Gators just simply couldn’t get their offense going in a timely enough matter to get a decent shot off.
The Hokies packaged that with sharp offensive play that included screens and passes that seemed to find the right man when he was open, and when Hunter Cattoor nailed his third straight three-pointer and Tyrece Radford added another jumper, the Hokies had their biggest lead of the game at 21-11.
The lead would shrink to only 29-25 at halftime, and then Virginia Tech – as it did against North Carolina – morphed back to the second-year type of team most of us expected. Outside shots stopped falling, as they only shot 37 percent from the floor in the second half, and even worse in overtime.
The ball did not move around as much, and particularly didn’t find its way into the hands of leading scorer Keve Aluma. He only took 5 shots in the first half, and his only shot of the second half – a jumper with 11:31 left in the game – would give the Hokies a 46-40 lead.
The Hokies then looked tired, and defensively it showed. Florida (who would hit 56.5 percent of its shots from the floor in the game) went on a 16-5 run as the Hokie offense seemed to be reduced to just Nahlem Alleyne shooting or Radford driving to the basket. Radford would play every minute of the game and finish with 18 points, while Alleyne scored 28 and had the shot of the game in the final seconds of regulation.
Down 64-61 with 7 second, Florida’s Anthony Duruji could have put the game away, but missed two free throws. Aluma grabbed the rebound, got the ball quickly to Alleyne and he launched a 3-pointer at the buzzer that saved the game for the moment and forced an overtime.
But if the second half looked more like what you’d expect for a team in its second year under a new coach, the overtime looked more like the first year. Aluma and Mutts fouled out in the first minute of overtime, and Florida capitalized on a tired team with little depth, as it was basically all Alleyne and Radford. Florida knew this, collapsed back on defense, then pounded it inside to big man Colln Castleton on offense, who led Florida with 19 points.
It was a disappointing loss for the Hokies after leading by as much as 8 in the second half, but it showed what the team is capable of, and which components it needs to add for next season. Coach Mike Young even said as much after the game.
"We have a chance to have a really good team a year from now...the future is now,” Young said. “I'm so disappointed we lost today...terribly disappointed...but we'll bounce back."
The Hokies could have definitely used another big man today, and has been the case throughout the season, the backcourt ran hot and cold when it came to scoring. Cattoor, for example, was deadly in the early minutes while hitting 3 straight 3s, but then went 0-for-7 from beyond the arc the rest of the game and only made one more shot from the floor. Alleyne and Radford combined for 46 points, but Wabissa Bede did not score, and only took one shot. Joe Bamisile, who has shown flashes of explosiveness on offense, for some reason did not play against the Gators, while Jalen Cone did not dress as he still is suffering the effects of an ankle injury.
"I'd like to have another post player," Young said. “I'd like to move Keve to the four. Mutts and Aluma on the front line, it was a really good one, but to add another body that can play... I think that's very important."
Aluma by all rights should be playing the 4 and Mutts would probably be better at the 3, so adding a solid big man to that mix would give the Hokies quite a front line. Storm Murphy transferring for next year from Wofford should add more firepower in the backcourt, although there are going to be a lot of guards on the roster, making you wonder if everybody’s coming back. Young says they are.
"I don't expect to lose anyone," Young said. “I hope like crazy I don't lose anyone. I love these guys."
So in a season where the Hokies missed nine games due to COVID and the hopes in November were that they might win a few more game and possibly be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, Virginia Tech exceeded expectations despite the loss. They finished 15-7, were seeded No. 3 in the ACC Tournament, made the NCAA’s and are expecting everyone back for another run next season in Young’s third season.
The future looks bright. More importantly, as Young noted after the game, the future is now.
Sure I wanted to win bad! But I love Coach Young and the best thing is I don't have to worry when he's gonna leave. I think there will be a couple of transfers but I hope not. In today's portal system there almost always will be.
But other than Bede (who technically could play another year) nobody is leaving, and if the chance comes to add a few players (particularly big men) better than what you have, it becomes a numbers game. Somebody might have to leave...