No. 11 Virginia Tech fell to No. 16 Louisville 72-64 in Cassell Coliseum on Monday night. The Hokies dropped to 18-4 overall and 7-3 in the ACC with the loss, while the Cardinals improved to 16-7 and 8-2.
The short-handed Hokies, playing without Justin Robinson for the second consecutive game, used a very small rotation against Louisville, with six players getting 199 of the 200 total minutes. Nickeil Alexander-Walker played all 40 minutes for the second consecutive game, while Kerry Blackshear and Ahmed Hill played 39 minutes each. Wabissa Bede had 38 minutes. Overall, the Hokies got 13 minutes from their bench, 12 of which came from freshman guard Isaiah Wilkins.
Tech never led, and every time they made a run to cut into Louisville’s lead, the Cardinals responded with a run of their own. Trailing 31-26 at halftime, the Hokies scored the first four points of the second half to cut the lead to 31-30. However, Louisville responded with a 10-1 run of their own to take a 41-31 lead with 15:31 remaining in the game.
Virginia Tech then responded with a 7-0 run, with a three-pointer by Isaiah Wilkins cutting the head to 41-38 with 12:15 remaining. It was at that point that Louisville’s Ryan McMahon came up with the run from which the Hokies never fully recovered.
First McMahon was fouled while shooting a three-pointer, and he converted all three free throws. Then he proceeded to make a three-pointer on three consecutive possessions, going on a personal 12-3 run to make the score 53-41 with 10:30 left. At that point he had scored 15 points in just nine minutes of playing time.
The Hokies had one more run left in them, but it wasn’t to be. With the score 61-56 Louisville with 3:09 left, Tech stole an inbounds pass, and Ahmed Hill was open under the basket for what would have been an easy layup. Nobody spotted Hill, however, who then sprinted to the corner and missed an open three-pointer. Tech had an opportunity to cut the lead to three points, or even two points, but missed it.
At the 1:36 mark, with the score 63-58 Louisville, Dwayne Sutton banked in a three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 66-58, and at that point things were effectively out of reach for the Hokies, who have had just one day of practice to work on their new offense since Justin Robinson went down with his injury on Wednesday night in Miami.
“We got home Thursday [from Miami] at two in the morning so it was kind of slow-moving on Thursday,” Williams said of playing three games in five days. “We would practice Friday morning before they have class so that we can get on the road. We got back Saturday night. I thought it was the best play to have us off yesterday with a third game in five games. We did our typical one-day prep before they went to class and then shoot-around.”
“They lose a lot when Justin goes out because he is such a conduit, like Cunningham is for us,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “He is an All-ACC player, he can find guys and score, but I thought we did a great job of covering their three- point shooters.”
The Hokies shot 20-of-45 (44.4%) from the field for the game, but they were just 9-of-24 (37.5%) from three-point range. Ahmed Hill was 0-of-7 from the outside. Kerry Blackshear had 21 points for the Hokies. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, in his new role of playing point guard in Robinson’s absence, had 17 points and four assists, but he also had six turnovers. Ty Outlaw had 12 points.
Louisville shot a higher percentage from three-point range than their overall shooting percentage. They were 24-of-53 (45.3%) overall, but 13-of-27 (48.1%) from the outside. That includes two big three-pointers that had a huge impact on the game. Besides the banked three-pointer near the end of the game, center Steven Enoch hit a deep three-pointer as the clock expired to end the first half. His shot answered a 6-0 Hokies run that had closed it to 28-20, and it gave Louisville the five-point half time cushion at 31-26.
Virginia Tech returns to action on Saturday when they travel to Clemson. Tipoff is scheduled for noon, and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN2.
Game Notes From Virginia Tech
The Hokies entered the game ranked 11th in the AP poll and 10th in the USA Today Coaches poll.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 17 points, the 18th time this season he has scored in double figures.
With his 21 points tonight, Kerry Blackshear Jr., has surpassed the 900-career point plateau at Virginia Tech. This is his 15th game this season in double figures and his third game of at least 20 points. He now has 917 career points.
Ty Outlaw scored 12 points tonight, making 4-of-7 from three-point range. This is his sixth game in double figures this season. He has made at least three three-pointers in 10 games this season.
Tonight’s game was sold out, the third consecutive sellout for the Hokies.
Ahmed Hill scored nine points, and in doing so surpassed the 1,300 career point plateau at Virginia Tech. He is now 25th in career scoring with 1,304 points.
Wabissa Bede tied an ACC game career-high with a team-high five assists.