A noticeably exhausted Justin Bibbs had a towel over his head following the Hokies’ double overtime win over #12 Virginia, sitting in his usual spot as the media filed in to talk with the players after the game. Bibbs, who exerted plenty of effort, logging a team high 46 minutes of play Sunday night, had a few words to sum up an instant classic.
“Really tired, but our teammates rallied together.”
That effort and comradery were somewhat lacking during the Hokies’ 1-3 stretch over the last four games. On Sunday night that story flipped. Despite finding themselves down 14 at the half against a Virginia team that limits possessions, the Hokies were able to claw their way back into it. That determined and tenacious brand of basketball that Buzz Williams’ team has shown throughout his tenure in Blacksburg made a grand reappearance in the most crucial of times.
“I just think the only answer to that (pulling out a win), without sounding arrogant, is toughness, grit, and character,” answered Buzz Williams.
One of the most prominent weaknesses of this Hokies’ team is their inability to pound teams on the glass. Without their two best rebounders for the majority of the second half and overtime periods, Virginia Tech somehow found a way to outrebound one of the best teams on the boards in the country 41-38. This was just 11 days after Virginia dominated the glass 35-21 in Charlottesville. There were no personnel changes. In fact, the Hokies were forced to play 5 guards at one point Sunday night. But the toughness of this team that Williams alluded to really showed. Guards Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs, and Justin Robinson combined for 16 boards on their own, which helped get the Hokies going in transition in the second half en route to scoring 40 in the period.
However, the omnipresent toughness was not the only thing that changed since the last time the Hokies took the floor against Virginia. Just a few days before the win, Coach Williams took it upon himself to improve the leadership he provided to the team.
“We played at Clemson on 1/22, that was the first time we played completely different defensively, and I think for 12 work days I was very immature as a leader,” Williams said. “And I think for a 10-12 day period, I became consumed with the wrong stuff, and I don’t think we were doing anything different from what you would see strategically, but since then I think we have gotten back to doing the right stuff, more sustainable stuff, things that will translate to their lives post-graduation, and I think that was evident in our resilience and toughness in the second half and overtimes.”
“The one thing I talked to them about after the game was, do you want to be known by your values or be known by your title? I think there was an underlying ‘oh we have to do this’, maybe for the wrong reasons.”
When the Hokies attained their first AP Poll ranking back on January 2nd, it was the first time since 2010 Virginia Tech was seen as a Top 25 team. But the Hokies played with arrogance due to that title, and were shellacked in Raleigh by 26 to a now reeling NC State team. During their second half and overtime surge, the Hokies played to their values, and there was a clear difference in the intensity and cohesiveness on the floor.
There may not be a better example of the Hokies’ discipline with their values than Seth Allen’s footwork on his second game-winning shot of the season. Virginia’s defense excels at stripping the ball and creating turnovers due to their active hands. Although the Hokies ended the game with 17 turnovers, Allen ensured he did not make a fatal mistake on his final shot attempt.
“I felt like I kind of beat him (Shayock) on the move, and I just tried to get to the paint and make a play at the rim,” said the redshirt senior, who finished the night with 20 points. “They had been telling us to play with two feet the whole time. So I didn’t go off one where they could make a play at the ball, I tried to make a strong, two-foot finish, and I felt him fly by and tried to make a shot.”
Coach Williams also knew the importance of staying strong and balanced off the bounce against Virginia’s top flight defense, and approved of Allen’s finish.
“I don’t think you can play off one foot or one hand against those guys. That’s what we’ve practiced,” Williams said. “So yeah, it (Allen’s jump stop) was perfect.”
Virginia Tech needs to keep the same mentality on the road as well, with two tough road contests coming up against Pittsburgh and a ranked Louisville side later this week. In this league, the Hokies now know they must bring it every night.