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Hokies Need Aluma To Bounce Back In NCAA Tournament

Virginia Tech big man Keve Aluma has been stellar this season, as the second-team All-ACC center played a large role in the Hokies' regular-season success this year.

But last night against North Carolina, he also played a role in their demise.

North Carolina surged past the Hokies in the second half, winning 81-73 in the quarterfinal of the ACC Tournament. That surge, in large part, started with the Tar Heels' regaining supremacy under the basket in the second half.

Virginia Tech controlled the paint in the first half, and it was a team effort. The Hokies bodied up down low and won all the relevant paint stats — points in the paint, rebound margin, second chance points. Tech denied entry to the paint and after an exhaustive performance, Tech earned themselves a three-point lead.

That exhaustive performance, however, wasn't sustainable with the Hokies essentially playing only six players the entire game.

Carolina's cadre of big men — Armando Bacot, Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler — proved too much for Virginia Tech to contend with. The trio combined for 31 points, 25 rebounds and six blocks. And more importantly, they were extremely physical with Aluma down low.

Their dominance blossomed in a critical sequence in the second half. After a Justyn Mutts turnover with 8:47 left to play, Carolina proceeded to score on their next five possessions. They went like this:

  • putback by Sharpe
  • putback by Bacot
  • dunk by Bacot
  • two offensive rebounds lead to Bacot putback
  • layup by Bacot

After this sequence, North Carolina led 66-56, and the game was effectively over. Carolina's frontcourt dominance had finally broken the Hokies' collective back.

Aluma bore most of the brunt of all this. Carolina focused on pushing around the all-conference player around the basket for the entirety of the second half. Offensively, they had Aluma bothered all game. Aluma shot just 4-13 on Thursday night.

"Spooked" was the word Virginia Tech Coach Mike Young specifically used in describing Aluma's game against UNC.

"He looked a little spooked...he looked a little hesitant," Young said in postgame interviews. "I'm not sure what to attribute that to."

He may not be sure now, but Young will probably be sure by the next time the Hokies play. Virginia Tech's starting center and all-conference player can't be spooked when the lights turn on and he faces players who are just as good as him. Which is what he will face in the NCAA Tournament.

Thankfully, we know that Virginia Tech will make the NCAA Tournament. There's no doubt about it. And if you look at previous games this season, Aluma has shown he's capable of bouncing back. He had a similar game in a loss to Syracuse, hitting 1 of 10 shots and only scoring two points. One week later against the league's first-place team, Aluma was 10-15 from the floor, 10 rebounds and 29 points as the Hokies upset Virginia.

Tech needs him to do this again. Mutts and Tyrece Radford had strong games for Virginia Tech, and Nahiem Alleyne did his part on Thursday. But they need that strong scoring threat from Aluma to avoid defenses shifting their focus to Mutts. 

Aluma is the key. He's vital to Virginia Tech's defensive efficiency, which is among the ACC's best. He's also vital to their offense, which needs his presence in the paint and his ability to attack other bigs off the dribble.

We'll learn of Virginia Tech's NCAA Tournament matchup on Sunday. And while there will be time for celebration, there will also be a time to analyze, study film, and come up with a game plan. All while Young attempts to work his magic with Aluma like he did after the Syracuse game...one more time.

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Friday, 12 August 2022

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