On the road against top tier teams, it is essential that mistakes are limited and the team plays with confidence. For the most part, the first half showed that the Hokies were not afraid of one of the best teams in the nation in their house. The first 20 minutes went about as well as Buzz Williams could have asked for. Nursing a 46-41 going into the break, the Hokies stayed competitive on the glass and were shooting 62.1% from the field. Virginia Tech was turning the ball over at an alarming rate, but many of those issues were unforced or correctable.
It was a different story in the final 20 minutes, however.
In the second half, the Hokies’ turnover problem was amplified, and their length disadvantaged manifested itself on the defensive glass. Kentucky, who averaged just seven made treys a game coming into the game, stayed hot after halftime while the Hokies did not hit their first three of the second half until there was just 2:48 left in the game.
Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear has struggled with foul trouble in many games, but with just one personal foul called on him in the first half, it appeared that this would not be one of those games. However, he picked up two fouls within the first 30 seconds of the final period which sent him to the bench. It’s an easy argument to make that Blackshear’s third foul was the turning point in the game. Kentucky spurted out 10 straight points, recapturing momentum for seemingly the rest of the game.
It is much more difficult to beat the No. 8 team in the country on the road if you are constantly beating yourself. The Hokies totaled 19 turnovers leading to 36 Kentucky points. At times, Tech made getting across half-court look more difficult than getting through finals week, as they failed to beat the press on numerous occasions.
The Hokies battled on the defensive glass which was their worst disadvantage on paper coming into this matchup. Virginia Tech actually outrebounded Kentucky in the first half, but the Wildcats’ length took over in the second half, especially when Blackshear was out of the game. Kentucky ended the game with 14 offensive boards and 18 second chance points.
While there were plenty of mistakes made, the fact of the matter is that the Hokies gave everything Kentucky could handle, and looked in control for much of the game. That may not feel as good as win, but this gave the team a taste of March basketball. Experience is never a bad thing.
Ahmed Hill has been the team’s best shooter so far, and he showed why once more today, knocking down 5-of-7 from three point range leading the team with 20 points. Justin Robinson was very good once again, racking up 9 assists and serving up buckets on a platter for his teammates.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, facing off against his cousin who played for Kentucky, had a forgettable game. He was credited with 4 turnovers while scoring just 6 points. Simply put: he looked like a freshman.
The Hokies travel back to Blacksburg and take on Presbyterian on Tuesday.