Hokies Fall 70-64 to #21 NC State

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Virginia Tech battled #21 NC State down to the wire on Saturday afternoon but ultimately fell short yet again, dropping a 70-64 decision in Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies dominated virtually every statistic except shooting, and their lack of production in that area doomed them to yet another close loss. Tech dropped to 13-12 overall and 3-9 in ACC play. NC State improved to 21-5 and 10-3 in ACC play.

NC State entered the game as the top three-point shooting team in the ACC, and they lived up to their reputation on Saturday. The Wolfpack hit 12-of-26 shots from three-point range, good for a blistering 46.2%. Their three-point percentage was actually better than their overall field goal percentage, which was 45.1%. They were outstanding from the free throw line as well, hitting 12-of-14 shots for 85.7%.

Virginia Tech had been shooting the ball well of late, but they reverted back to their early season form against the Wolfpack. Tech hit just 26-of-72 shots from the field, a mark of 36.1%. They hit just 1-of-12 three-point attempts for 8.3%. It was their lack of production on the offensive end that eventually cost the Hokies the game.

Virginia Tech trailed by as many as 22 points in this game, but their rebounding and turnover margin gave them a chance to come back. The Hokies rarely outrebound ACC opponents, but did manage to beat NC State 40-35 in this category. Tech also had 21 offensive rebounds, compared to just nine for the Wolfpack.

The Hokies have the best turnover margin in the ACC, and they showed why on Saturday. They gave the ball up just six times and forced NC State into 15 turnovers.

Virginia Tech got good games from Coleman Collins and Jamon Gordon. Collins led the Hokies in scoring with 15 points and was very effective on the boards, grabbing 11 rebounds, also a team high. He had six offensive rebounds and hit some very important shots down the stretch to keep Tech in the game.

Gordon continued his streak of excellent play. The junior guard scored 11 points, had six steals, grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists and blocked two shots. Gordon committed just one turnover in a team-high 39 minutes of action.

Reading the box score, there is a lot to be happy about. The Hokies outscored NC State 24-7 in points off turnovers, 44-14 in the paint, 18-8 in second chance points and 15-6 on fast break points. Tech’s bench also outscored the Wolfpack reserves 12-4, a rare occurrence for the Hokies this season. But it was all for naught, as Tech’s poor shooting performance doomed them to another close loss.

Early on it appeared that the Wolfpack would run the Hokies out of Cassell Coliseum. NC State stormed out to a 10-0 lead behind the hot shooting of Tony Bethel and Cameron Bennerman. The two perimeter players would hit numerous big shots throughout the day. Bennerman tied a career high with 26 points, and Bethel added 19.

The Hokies scratched and clawed their way back into the game. At the 10:04 mark of the first half, A.D. Vassallo hit a layup that cut the lead to 15-13. Bennerman responded with a three-pointer to put the Wolfpack back up by five, and then the Hokies went on a quick 4-0 run to pull within four points with 8:00 remaining in the half. The game would continue to be close for the next few minutes, with Jamon Gordon draining a jumper at the 5:32 mark to make the score 22-21 NC State.

But that was as close as the Hokies would get in the first half. Tech fell apart defensively over the final five minutes of the half and NC State went on a 21-4 run to take a 43-25 lead into the intermission. The Wolfpack hit five three-pointers during the run. Jamon Gordon scored all four of Tech’s points during the NC State run, and scored the final six points of the first half for Tech.

NC State added to their lead to start the second half. Cedric Simmons and Cameron Bennerman both hit early jumpers, and the Wolfpack’s lead was extended to 47-25 with 18:25 remaining in the game. But at this point the Hokies found enough energy to begin their second half run.

The run began with a driving layup by sophomore forward Deron Washington. On NC State’s next possession, Jamon Gordon stole an errant pass and Washington finished with a dunk on the other end to make the score 47-29. Gordon got a steal on the next possession and missed a shot under the basket, but A.D. Vassallo was there for the putback and was fouled on the play. Vassallo hit the free throw to cut the lead to 47-32. Cheick Diakite would get open underneath two minutes later, and his layup made the score 47-34. However that 9-0 run was answered by two Wolfpack three-pointers, and NC State led 53-34 with 13:53 left in the game.

But the Hokies continued to play hard and gradually get themselves back in the game. With 10:02 left in the game Coleman Collins grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a layup to cut the lead to 57-45. Three minutes later Jamon Gordon got another steal and Collins scored again to cut the lead to 59-49 with 7:04 remaining. With 6:19 remaining, Tony Bethel hit a jump shot to make the score 61-49 NC State. It would be the last field goal the Wolfpack would score in the game.

After Bethel’s shot the Hokies began a 9-0 run and would eventually cut the lead to three points. Coleman Collins’ dunk on a fast break would make the score 61-58 with 1:21 remaining, and the Hokies had all the momentum. But NC State kept their composure and hit 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch. Eight of the free throws were by Bennerman, who was 10-of-10 from the free throw line for the game.

The Hokies did manage to successfully extend the game. Tech answered the NC State free throws with baskets of their own. Zabian Dowdell, who scored 10 points and shot just 4-of-16 from the field, scored eight points in the final 5:57 of the game. The game was still in doubt when NC State hit two free throws to extend their lead to 68-64 with 17 seconds left. But on Tech’s ensuing possession, Wynton Witherspoon mishandled a pass and turned the ball over, effectively ending the Hokies’ comeback chances. In a fitting end to the game, Bennerman hit two free throws to make the final score 70-64.

Tech returns to action on Wednesday night when they battle the Miami Hurricanes. Tip-off is scheduled for 7pm and the game will be televised by ESPNU.

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