On Saturday afternoon, neither team was quite ready to return from their exam break. The Hokies didn’t make a shot from open play in the opening seven minutes. Luckily for them, VMI was not proficient early on as well, and the Tech defense was prepared to make up the difference.
Ultimately, the contest was a like a lot what we’ve seen from Mike Young’s squad this year - a lot of hustle, new players stepping up from the prior game, and a reliance on the full roster. Virginia Tech won 64-55 to move to 9-3 on the season, a solid start to the new era of Hokies basketball.
1 - The rotating cast continues to shine
If this sounds like a repeat, you are correct. Virginia Tech has had games where individual players dominate and secure the win nearly single handedly, but more often than not the Hokies are winning games as a unit, nine players deep. On Saturday the bench saved the day once again scoring 38 of Tech’s 64 points.
Landers Nolley struggled going 1-for-11, and ending the night on four points, as did Nahiem Alleyne (5) and Wabissa Bede (4). That trio went 4-for-21. Tyrece Radford was the only starter who had a decent night, pulling in 10 rebounds (team best) alongside seven points. Hunter Cattoor led the Hokies with 14 points and was joined by Isiah Wilkins with 13. Both players contributed rebounds, hit threes, and had solid percentages from both the floor and the free throw line. Another example of how Coach Young can rely on his bench to step up when the marquee starters have an off night.
Many people stepped up yesterday in Cassell #StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/xxQnm9mVl5— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) December 22, 2019
2 - Impressive night for the defense
Against a top ACC team, the Hokies’ offensive struggles early on likely would have cost them the game. But Tech put forth one of their best defensive outings of the season, frustrating VMI all night. Consistent pressure forced the Keydets in 22 turnovers (compared to Tech’s 7). But perhaps the best stat of the night was that VMI went 0-for-0 from the free throw line. The Hokies didn’t foul the opponent during a shot the entire night and never put VMI into the one-and-one bonus. Impressive control, committing only eight personal fouls as a team all night.
Despite the solid performance, Young has multiple areas to work on over this second extended break. VMI out-rebounded Tech 39 to 35. And beyond the arc the Keydets hit 13 three pointers compared to VT’s seven. As a key part of Mike Young’s system he will want the team to improve their defensive effort against threes before starting the ACC run in January.
We forced 23 turnovers tonight— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) December 22, 2019
The last time we caused our opponent 23 or more miscues was on Nov. 9, 2018 (45 games ago)#StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/lec81xlXM3
3 - Jalen Cone is a dangerous 8th man
When Cone is your 3rd player off the bench your team is going to be competitive most every night. The young expected senior high schooler turned reclassified freshman, continues to grow into the season and show comfort competing at the next level. Cone has featured in all 12 of the Hokies games this season, with Saturday marking the 7th time he has gotten over 10 minutes of action.
Against VMI Jalen hit two of his three shots from deep and was 3-for-3 from the free throw line. In fact, Cone has impressive numbers on the year as a young player with limited minutes. He has hit 16 threes from 30 attempts, and is 8-for-9 from the stripe. At multiple points in the months ahead Cone will be called upon to step in for Wabissa Bede when foul trouble forces him to the bench. Having a capable, and confident, backup running the point is a valuable asset for Mike Young to call on.
Tech is on another long break over the holidays, returning to Cassell Coliseum on December 29th against Maryland Eastern Shore.