Virginia Tech started off the 2020-21 season with a 77-62 win over Radford inside a nearly empty Cassell Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon.
“It was different. It was really different. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to play,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “I did not say anything to them, obviously we’re limited to 250 people, so it’s not going to be what we’re accustomed to. That was different than I anticipated.”
The Hokies were led offensively by Wofford transfer Keve Aluma, who was finally eligible after sitting out last year. In his debut, Aluma led the team in scoring with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
“It was just good to get back out there,” Aluma said. “I wasn’t too worried about points. I just wanted to get the win.”
The unexpected aspect of Aluma’s game was his new-found ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. After only attempting one three-point field goal in his final season at Wofford, the big man drained three of his five attempts from outside against the Highlanders.
“That is pretty typical of what we see day-in and day-out in practice with him. In our final stats of our practices, he makes three, four or five from three. Obviously, I don’t want him to search for them. I thought he did a pretty good job of finding those shots out of our offense,” Young said. “He can really shoot it, and that’s a hard guy to guard that can step out and make that shot as a five.”
Aluma was one of the only Hokies who could find any kind of rhythm offensively early on. Tech’s offense sputtered through the first 15 minutes of the game with Aluma, Kansas State transfer Cartier Diarra and Tyrece Radford as the only scoring contributors.
In the Hokies’ first 25 shots, those three combined to go 10-of-16, while the rest of the team missed all nine shots they took.
“I don’t think the atmosphere had anything to do it. I think that shots were coming so easy, we have to get a great shot from guys that we want taking it. I’m not sure we did that in the first half,” Young said. “We had some flying through the air that looked like an AAU game, and that makes me sick to my stomach.”
After 23 straight points from Aluma, Diarra and Radford, the sophomores stepped up in a big way to help the Hokies start to pull away.
Nahiem Alleyne scored seven consecutive points at the end of the first half to extend the Tech lead to six at the break. In the second half, he dropped in seven more to finish as the second-leading scorer behind Aluma.
“In the first half, the first couple of minutes we were just doing one-pass shots, and we can’t do that against better teams like Temple, who we play next,” Alleyne said. “Like Coach said, ‘Get involved,’ so I tried to get involved more by getting to the basket and pulling up for my jump shot.”
In the second half, the Hokies improved their shooting percentage by almost 20 points after shooting below 40% in the first 20 minutes. Tech made 7-of-12 from beyond the arc after halftime as well, allowing them to put the game away. The Hokies shot 57.7% from the field in the second half, and 48.3% for the game, and they also ended up 11-of-26 (42.3%) from the outside.
“We got settled down and settled in and I thought we did a much better job from the ten-minute mark on,” Young said. “I thought our shot selection was much better in the second half.”
The catalyst in that effort was sophomore Hunter Cattoor, who put away four consecutive three-pointers in less than three minutes, extending their lead to 17 points at 69-52, the largest of the game. That lead came with 6:22 remaining in the game, and the Hokies coasted from there.
Cattoor joined Aluma and Alleyne as the only three Hokies in double-figures. Wabissa Bede and Tyrece Radford added nine each, while Kansas State transfer Cartier Diarra had eight.
The Hokies now travel to the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut for two games over the weekend. They are currently scheduled to play Temple on Saturday night, before a matchup with South Florida on Sunday evening.