Virginia Tech overcame a slow start to defeat VMI 64-55 in Cassell Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies improved to 9-3 overall, while the Keydets sit at 5-8.
The score at the first media timeout was 3-0 VMI, and Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young described that opening stage of the game as a “rock fight.” The Hokies got their first point at the 14:38 mark on a Hunter Cattoor free throw, and did not record their first field goal until a PJ Horne layup with 12:21 remaining in the first half.
VMI’s zone defense had the Hokies confused offensively early in the game.
“We’ve practiced really well, but the matchups are hard to simulate,” Young said. “Like a single wing in football or something that you don’t see a lot, it’s very hard to practice against. I’ve played them any number of times, and I’ve never had those difficulties, but I shoulder all of the blame. My team wanted to do the right things and we found some things in the second half, but it was a little bit of a struggle, and I’ve never been a part of a bad win. I’ll take that and move on down the line.”
Isaiah Wilkins noted that playing against the zone was new, but that it won’t be the first time the Hokies see something similar this season.
“It was definitely more challenging because haven’t seen that type of zone this year yet,” Wilkins said. “I know Syracuse runs something like that. I think it’s great preparation heading into conference.”
Fortunately the Hokies never quit playing defense during their tough offensive stretch, and therefore never trailed by more than three points. It was the bench that got things going for the Hokies, and it was the bench that led them throughout the course of the game. Hunter Cattoor scored a team-high 14 points, while Isaiah Wilkins had 13. Jalen Cone added nine.
It was a rough night for some of the starters, with Landers Nolley finishing with just four points. He was 1-of-11 from the field. No starter scored in double figures. Redshirt freshman Tyrece Radford led the way with seven, and he also pulled down 10 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds. Radford also led the team with four assists.
“That’s going to happen,” Hunter Cattoor said of the starters’ struggles. “There are going to be some games where people aren’t hitting shots, and that’s where it’s a team effort and a team game. Everyone needs to step up and do their part.”
The Hokies forced 22 VMI turnovers and limited the Keydets to just 7-of-26 (26.9%) shooting in the first half. As it turned out they needed every one of those turnovers, because VMI caught fire in the second half by shooting 14-of-25 (56%) from the field and 9-of-15 (60%) from three-point range in the second half. The Keydets made nine of their first 11 three-pointers in the final 20 minutes before finally cooling off and missing their last four.
Another key for the Hokies was VMI’s lack of free throw attempts. The Keydets didn’t attempt a single free throw for the entire game. That’s the first time during the ACC era (2004-19) that an opponent hasn’t attempted a free throw against Tech.
Because of their hot three-point shooting, VMI stayed within striking distance throughout the second half, never trailing by more than 12 points. They managed to cut Tech’s lead to 57-51 with 3:02 remaining, but a pair of free throws by Isaiah Wilkins with 55 seconds remaining took the Hokies’ lead back up to 59-51, and VMI didn’t seriously threaten again.
Virginia Tech returns to action next Sunday when they host Maryland-Eastern Shore in the final non-conference game of the season. Tipoff is scheduled for 6pm, and the game will be televised by RSN. Check your local listings.
Game Notes From Virginia Tech
Records and Notables
- Virginia Tech improves to 9-3 overall with the victory over the Keydets.
- Tech held VMI to no trips to the free-throw line, marking the first time the Hokies have held an opponent to zero free throw attempts since at least 2004 (ACC era).
- Tech leads the all-time series 93-43 following the victory on Saturday evening. The Hokies have won the last eight contests in a row, dating back to 2004.
- UP NEXT: The Hokies will continue their home slate when they face Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 29 at Cassell Coliseum. It will be Tech’s first RSN game this season.
- Virginia Tech used the starting lineup of Wabissa Bede, Tyrece Radford, P.J. Horne, Landers Nolley II, and Nahiem Alleyne. This is the 10th straight game the Hokies have started these five, resulting in seven victories. These five are averaging 53.5 points per game combined. Tech’s bench rotation is averaging 20.8 points per game.
- KEY FIRST HALF RUN: With just over eight minutes to go in the first half, Tech led 9-8 when freshman Jalen Cone drilled a 3-pointer, plus the foul, resulting in a four-point play. Cone then hit another triple on the next play to give the Hokies a 16-8 advantage. At the end of the half, forward P.J. Horne nailed a jumper and guard Tyrece Radford finished a layup to give Tech a 26-18 lead entering halftime.
- KEY SECOND HALF RUN: With 10 minutes of action left, freshman Hunter Cattoor sunk a triple from behind the arc followed by back-to-back lay ups from Radford and guard Wabissa Bede to give Tech a 47-39 advantage. With VMI mounting a comeback down just six with just over a minute to go, the Hokies garnered a key defense stop followed two made free throws from Wilkins, which would propel Tech to a 64-55 victory.
- Virginia Tech forced VMI to turn the ball over 23 times, the most since Nov. 9, 2018 versus Gardner-Webb (29).
- Tech received significant contributions off the bench for the second straight game, with Wilkins scoring 13 points and Cattoor adding 14. The Hokies’ bench scored a combined 38 points, the second-most points from the bench this year.
- Wilkins scored 13 points for the second straight game, tied for the second-most points this season (15, Delaware St., Nov. 20).
- Cattoor scored a career-high 14 points versus VMI. Cattoor has scored in double figures in five games this season.
- Jalen Cone scored nine points against VMI off the bench, which was the third-highest point total on the team along with his third-highest point total for the season.
- Tyrece Radford grabbed 10 rebounds for the second straight game. Radford now has 34 boards over the last four games, averaging 8.5 a game during that four-game stretch. Radford leads Tech in rebounds with 6.2 per game on the season.