Following a frustrating loss to Syracuse at home, the Hokies welcomed in a struggling UNC side. The Tar Heels entered the night in last place in the ACC at 1-5, but typically prove a difficult test for Virginia Tech. Like the pair of Syracuse games, Tech looked on the verge of letting the contest slip away early on, only to put together a series of mini runs to keep it close.
Mike Young’s squad continue to clip away at UNC’s lead, forcing not one, but two overtimes. It took all nine players on Wednesday night, but in the end the Hokies pulled out a two point victory thanks to Tyrece Radford’s only basket of the night. Virginia Tech are now 14-5 overall, 5-3 in the ACC and sit 4th in the conference. On to the takeaways.
1 - You will be entertained
You won’t expect this Hokie squad to roll past opponents, effectively ending games by halftime. Nor would you anticipate that anyone in the league could do the same to them. Instead, these young Hokies are competitive each and every night, which is a joy for the neutral - even if it might be difficult on the Virginia Tech faithful’s blood pressure.
They look for the three, are aggressive on defense, and prefer to play a faster-paced, entertaining style of basketball. It’s appealing to eye on TV and inside Cassell. Which shouldn’t be taken for granted given the newness of the roster playing together and the desire by some coaches to always put results over style. Defense in itself can be fun to watch, but fans - and players - want to score, want to feel the energy of a high-tempo game.
Regardless where this season ends, it has already surpassed expectations. They’ve won big games, they are competitive in the ACC, and have introduced Hokie Nation to a number of entertaining basketball players. Enjoy.
TEAM. WIN.#StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/k8za1tQP4G— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) January 23, 2020
2 - Defense at the expense of rebounds
Now to take you down off of that emotional high, there is one particular part of Coach Young’s system that can be frustrating to watch at times. Overall, the Hokies are a great rebounding team considering their size. UNC, who clearly out-sized Tech, pulled in 43 rebounds to the Hokies 39, fairly even. And their offense rebounds are not low when compared across schools, so this is a minor issue that should improve as the season continues.
Raise your hand if you’ve seen a Virginia Tech player shoot a three that misses and then there is not a single Hokie battling for the rebound? Yeah, it’s a frequent sight. Coach Young has his team prioritize getting back quickly on defense to prevent fast break points for the opponents. And it pays off - UNC had 0 fast break points last night & Syracuse had six. It was a needed shift after Wake Forest tallied 17 fast break points against Tech.
However, there are additional offensive possessions and points there to be won. As the team perfects Young’s defensive setup, hopefully he will allow one player (hello Tyrece Radford) to crash the boards on attempts from deep. The gamble could see Tech ahead in these close games, rather than chasing.
Waking up like #StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/sNaZzZmkWr— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) January 23, 2020
3 - Jalen Cone can save a game
Landers Nolley is a tremendous player, likely headed to the NBA next season, and the focus of Tech’s offense. However, as unlikely as it is, the Hokies may have a player who is even more confident than Nolley - Jalen Cone. Multiple times this month as Cone has made his emergence, Tech is trailing, looking like the deficit is getting too big, only for him to hit a seemingly impossible three.
Against UNC Cone scored 18 (second highest of the year), including making six 3-pointers from 11 attempts behind the arc (most from any player either side Wednesday night). Since the UVA game, Cone has attempted 36 threes - that’s averaging just over seven a game during that stretch. He’s made 40 this year already and has an incredible 55% conversion rate.
The young man is clutch. And his confidence is endearing to watch. Remember he is suppose to be a high school senior right now. Opposition defenses will now have to start drawing up game plans to stop both Nolley and Cone. Nahiem Alleyne will gladly welcome that extra space.
Next up the Hokies travel to take on Boston College this Saturday. You can catch the game on ESPNU at 2 pm ET.