Virginia Tech overcame a double-digit deficit to defeat Syracuse 67-63 in the Carrier Dome on Tuesday night. The Hokies improved to 11-4 overall and 2-2 in the ACC with the victory, while the Orange dropped to 8-7 and 1-3. It was Tech’s first-ever men’s basketball victory in the Carrier Dome.
When the Hokies fell behind by double figures in losses to Dayton, BYU, Duke and UVA, they lost their composure and ended up losing by bigger margins. However, when they were struggling in the second half on the road, in perhaps the biggest House of Horrors in the history of Virginia Tech athletics, they responded by going on a huge second half run and coming away with their second ACC road win in three games.
True freshman guard Jalen Cone was the spark that ignited the run. Playing off the ball instead of his usual point guard position, Cone lit up the Syracuse zone for 19 points, including 16 in the second half. He had a pair of 4-point plays during that key run that put the Hokies on top.
Tech trailed 38-29 after a Syracuse basket with 13:47 left in the game. At that point the Hokies had scored only two points in the entire second half after trailing 33-27 at halftime. It was Cone who took over the game at this point, making the following baskets during Tech’s big run.
12:24: Two free throws, Syracuse 38-31 lead
11:53: 4-point play, Syracuse 40-35 lead
10:43: Three-pointer, Syracuse 42-40 lead
9:48: 4-point play, Virginia Tech 46-44 lead
From Cone’s first free throw at the 12:24 mark to a Landers Nolley free throw with 7:46 left in the game to make the score 52-44 Virginia Tech, the Hokies outscored the Orange 23-6. They scored 23 points in under five minutes after scoring 29 points for the first 27+ minutes of the game. Cone also added another key three-pointer with 1:41 left in the game to push Tech’s lead to 60-54. He was 5-of-7 from the field, all from three-point range, and he made all four of his free throw attempts. He did it in just 19 minutes of action, most of which came in the second half.
Besides Cone’s heroics, Virginia Tech’s free throw shooting down the stretch played a key role. The Hokies were 15-of-21 (71.4%) from the charity stripe, with Landers Nolley, Wabissa Bede and PJ Horne all knocking down key free throws down the stretch.
Despite going just 1-of-11 from three-point range, Landers Nolley still found a way to contribute. He finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. He had a steal and a breakaway dunk, and that dunk happened to be Virginia Tech’s only non-assisted basket of the game.
In what could perhaps end up being the stat of the season, the Hokies had 20 assists on 21 made field goals. Meanwhile, the Orange had just six assists as Tech disrupted the flow of a usually dangerous three-point shooting offense. Syracuse made just six three-pointers, while for the season 39.1% of their points have come from three-point range, good for No. 28 in the country.
PJ Horne added 12 points for the Hokies and made several critical second half jumpers, not to mention two free throws in the closing minutes. Junior point guard Wabissa Bede dished out eight of Virginia Tech’s 20 assists.
Tech and Syracuse will meet again in Blacksburg on January 18, but for now the Hokies will return home where they will face the NC State Wolfpack this Saturday in Cassell Coliseum. Tipoff is scheduled for 2pm, and the game will be televised by RSN. Check your local listings.