The most important takeaway from last night's blowout loss to #1 Michigan State, is that Tom Izzo, the well-respected coach for Michigan State was quoted as saying: "Virginia Tech is going to be decent." Although the Hokies Men's Basketball team suffered a resounding 96-77 defeat that wasn't even as close as the final score indicates, I concur with Izzo. This team has the pieces to compete in the ACC, and refute the preseason punditry that had them pegged for last in the conference.
Last night's game featured some stellar individual efforts, with senior forward Jarrell Eddie lighting it up and single-handedly keeping the Hokies afloat early; and Adam Smith bearing down in the second half and refusing to let the game wander into truly embarrassing territory. As for the rest of the team? They need to shake this one off and get ready for tonight's game against Seton Hall in the consolation game of the Coaches vs Cancer Classic, again at Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, NY (7 p.m. tip, TruTV). Seton Hall blew a six-point advantage to Oklahoma in the final 42 seconds and will no doubt be eager to atone for their loss.
The first half was exciting, and by the end of it, most of us had seen enough to know who the better unit was. Michigan State led 45-33 at the end of the first half on the strength of 20 points from senior C Adreian Payne, who demonstrated why he was ranked the #1 center in the country by Lindy's preseason publication. Payne would finish with 29 points and 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks, showcasing a complete all-around game that also featured 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. His ability to move out away from the basket caused the Hokie frontcourt defenders some serious confusion, and it led to numerous backdoor opportunities for the likes of junior Branden Dawson (12 points/10 rebounds), sophomore guard Gary Harris (19 points on an off-night, just 2-12 from 3-point range), and senior point guard Keith Appling (13 points, 7 assists). By the time the Hokie's defense tried to adjust to Payne on the perimeter, he would go back down low and dominate inside. The Spartans at one point led the Hokies in dunks 6-0, so they were getting it done inside and out.
The Hokies were paced by Jarrell Eddie's unconscious shooting in the opening frame, with 17 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting. He would finish with 23 points on 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, bringing his two game total on treys to 11-of-14. If he gets his feet set and a forward lean, it's going to be a make. A continued effort like this and we are looking at him finishing his career at VT as an All-ACC team member. The hot shooting usually never sustains however, and it was apparent that the Hokies weren't getting any looks inside the painted area. The Michigan State defense clamped down on Eddie, and nobody else was able to pick up the slack.
The Hokies actually led the game early at 20-14, but turnovers doomed them. They finished with 17 turnovers to the Spartans 7, with 11 of the turnovers coming from our three Freshmen contributors, Devin Wilson, Ben Emelogu, and Trevor Thompson, who scored 7 points combined on 3-of-11 shooting. With 11 turnovers to 11 shots, the young Hokies were turning the ball over on 50% of possessions. Wilson in particular had a trying game, with 0 points, 5 assists, and 4 turnovers, while looking completely out of sorts on defense chasing Harris around. Emelogu hit his first couple shots, but picked up two quick fouls, and never regained his focus. Emelogu had been averaging nearly 16 ppg. coming in. And perhaps most disappointingly, Trevor Thompson never got on track, scoring just 2 points, grabbing 2 rebounds, committing 3 fouls, and turning it over in the post virtually every time he touched it. He needs to keep the ball higher instead of bringing it down to his chest, and make quicker decisions with the ball.
After Eddie converted a 3-point play to put the Hokies up 20-14, it was all downhill from there. Izzo substituted for everyone but Payne and backup point guard Travis Trice had a couple big buckets, and Payne and Denzel Valentine each hit a 3-point shot. Eddie did his best to stop the bleeding, but the Michigan State run was on. It was curious to me that the Hokies didn't try to foul the Spartans to slow their momentum, and the game continued to go up and down unimpeded by whistles, much to the Hokies disadvantage. Each team was only whistled for 16 fouls in an evenly officiated game. Sometimes the strategic use of fouls can halt a team's run, and this would have been one of those ideal times. Michigan State took the lead for good at the 6:37 mark on a monster dunk from Payne. And after two C.J. Barksdale FTs, the Spartans went on a 14-3 run to end the half that was only interrupted by one last 3 from Jarrell Eddie. Payne capped the half with a buzzer beating three that signified that this was not to be Virginia Tech's night.
Michigan State started the second half on a 24-6 run to extend the lead to 69-39, and it was time to warm up the buses. Overall they had gone on a 55-19 run, with a smaller 33-6 run embedded. Redshirt sophomore Adam Smith finished with a game-high 27 points, 24 of which came after the outcome was decided. He has the ability to get points, but it remains to be seen how much of that can come within the flow of a normal, more tightly-contested game. All 24 of those points came in the final 10 minutes, and to be honest you have to almost equate them to him putting them up in an empty gym as Izzo had called his dogs off.
Before I get to the game grades, just a few interesting numbers:
- Michigan State is assisting on 72% of their baskets this season. I sincerely doubt we see another team on the schedule that plays this unselfishly.
- The Hokies converted on 13-of-27 3-point shots, but only 12-of-34 from two. Not that it would have made much of a difference had we made 50% of twos, but we need to be converting in close. The Hokie's missed dunk curse reared its head again a couple times tonight.
- Once again we aren't forcing the turnovers, and the -11 margin told the tale of the game. Youth and inexperience contributing heavily in that regard. Michigan State doesn't even emphasize the steal as part of their defensive attack, but they doubled their season average with 13 of them. MSU outscored VT 19-5 in points off of turnovers.
- VT out-rebounded Michigan State 39-34, but Michigan State shot 21-36 from 2, and 12-23 on 3's not shot by Gary Harris (2-12). The Defense was discombobulated as the Michigan State players appeared interchangeable from all spots on the floor. Our players came in expecting MSU to stick to their spots, but they looked comfortable everywhere
Individual Player Grades. By minutes played (descending):
(Author's Note: Because of the opponent, neutral site, and relative inexperience, I will not grade anyone lower than a D. This is like T scores in school, where the highest grade anyone would get is a 60 (a failing grade), so even the people who got 30s would still get a C)
Adam Smith (28 minutes): Just 3 points in the first half. 24 in the second half, but he let Appling of MSU do what Appling does, and didn't interrupt it defensively in the least. He had 5 assists, but those were largely just feeding Eddie's hot hand in the first half. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I'm just not impressed with Smith based on his usage rates and production this season. I'm not sure he made too many strides during his year off, but I can't blame him for that having practiced with last year's team. I like the fight he demonstrated, but it'd have been better if he'd worked harder on D. Tonight's Grade: B-
Devin Wilson (26 minutes): He needs some help. He's tiring already. Because of his size and Smith being shorter, he's being tasked with chasing 2 guards through screens on the defensive end along with handling the ball full-time on offense. If Marquis Rankin isn't just posturing until the semester ends and applying for a transfer, it'd help us out to have him back so that Wilson could play a little off the ball. His line was horrible, with 4 turnovers (could have been 7 without us recovering deflections), and little in the way of offense, he posed no threat. MSU could play 5-on-4 when he didn't have the ball in his hands. I am firmly behind him as floor leader, and believe he'll do just fine in the ACC, but coach needs to figure out who else can handle the ball. If Smith is unreliable, then I vote for the collected Emelogu who can do a lot of things he's not being called on to do right now. Tonight's Grade: D
Jarrell Eddie (24 minutes): He wound up resting down the stretch. We'll need him tonight. But in the first half he played Payne to a virtual draw. The basket looks twice its size to him right now. It's beautiful to watch him shoot. The only complaint I have about his game tonight is that he did nothing else but hit the threes. He had 1 rebound, after several solid postings. He's proven capable of grabbing 6 or 7 on a regular basis. And he didn't pass at all, which with all the attention he was getting might have helped keep Michigan State honest. He didn't have a compete game. Tonight's Grade: B+ (if nobody gets an F, nobody gets an A either)
C.J. Barksdale (21 minutes): He looked small out there tonight after looking big vs VMI. He oscillates between being a big SF and a small PF. Unfortunately for him the SFs on MSU were beasts, and the PFs even larger. Considering the minutes were low, his line of 8 points, 7 rebounds and the team's only block was pretty nice work in just his second game back. Defensively is where the problem was, as he didn't make an impact. Tonight's Grade: B-
Marshall Wood (19 minutes): Once again, fairly content to blend in to the woodwork. Didn't use his size at all, got muscled around some, and finished with OK production in 5 points and 5 rebounds. He appears to be the definition of the slow starter. He has the skill set, but perhaps not the mean streak. He'll be a consistent contributor during the ACC season, just as he turned out to be last year. Tonight's Grade: C
Ben Emelogu (19 minutes): Started out hot with 5 quick points, but never really attacked the goal when he got the ball. MSU bottled him up. He needs to use his skill set to make others a little bit better. As is "The Microwave" has been content to look for his offense off the bench, but last night we needed a more well-rounded effort from him, and he didn't deliver. This was a learning experience for everyone, Ben included. Tonight's Grade: C-
Trevor Thompson (16 minutes): After back to back MVP efforts vs WVU and WCU and a solid effort vs VMI, Trevor threw up a stinker. As a freshman that is to be expected at times this year. Payne moving out to the three point line had Raines, Van Zegeren and him completely flummoxed. He turned the ball over and had more personal fouls than FG attempts. He'll be fine, tonight just wasn't the ideal matchup for him. Tonight's Grade: D-
Cadarian Raines (12 minutes): 0-5 from the field, dominated by Payne. Just 2 rebounds and 3 fouls. Kept looking at the officials after bad misses looking for calls. Thoroughly regressive effort. I am disappointed in the production we are getting from Raines lately. He is taking up space and setting screens, but from a fifth year senior we need the potential for offense, and we definitely need him to be able to do a better job containing a fellow senior wide-body like Payne. Not sure what can be done here, and it mainly depends on how Johnson uses him some nights. The plan for him tonight was useless. Tonight's Grade: D-
Joey Van Zegeren (11 minutes): Needs to get his head back on straight, with his minutes getting jerked around, his play has become more uneven. He was almost a member of Club Trillion tonight, where the box score has 1 minute and straight zeroes across. Except he played 11 minutes! We will need him to be a valuable rotation member in the event of foul troubles this season. He needs to be able to come in cold and contribute. Tonight's Grade: D
Coach James Johnson: Once Johnson saw that MSU was going to try to run, he needed to find a way to slow them down. The team with lesser athletes needs to do a better job of trying to distort the pace the better athletes want to run at. We didn't use our fouls judiciously, we didn't bring physical play. We were content to get run over. And though Johnson was at a disadvantage personnel-wise with a youthful team, he needed to try to influence the game more. Tonight's Grade: C- ... we did after all stay in the game for 15 minutes.
Hopefully we can take the few positives from tonight, lick our wounds and come back determined to avoid falling back to .500 on the season. We are playing an equally wounded opponent tonight in Seton Hall.
I am working on another piece right now to get you better acquainted with Seton Hall that should be up shortly after this one. Game tonight tips at 7 p.m. on TruTV. Let's hope we can bounce back!
Mi Cassell es su Cassell. Have a pleasant Saturday!
#All quotes taken from Roanoke Times, Mark Berman