It wasn’t pretty, but No. 16 Virginia Tech (4-0) was able to weather a bad offensive night and beat VMI (2-2) in Cassell Coliseum on Thursday night, 64-57.
“Last time I checked, it was about winning the game and we did that,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “We were down four at some point late and you have to make some plays, stiffen up and rebound the ball and we did that.”
No Hokies fans were breathing easy in the second half after the Keydets went on a 13-0 run over a six-minute period just after halftime. Tech had just one field goal from the 17:15 mark to the 7:06 mark of the second half.
After the long drought, the Hokies were able to score ten of the next 12 points and finally take control of the game to remain undefeated on the season.
“I thought we were quicker on our feet. We had a couple of nice interior passes throughout the game,” Young said. “I thought our team was engaged and our team was energized. Anytime I leave with a win, I’ll take it.”
The Hokies shot a combined 35% from the field and were 4-27 (14.8%) from beyond the arc. Tech entered the contest shooting just under 50% from the floor, making this a steep drop off from the production the team has had over the first three games.
“Our guys have been in the gym all day today and all day the past couple of weeks, so it was
just getting on the court today and the shots not falling,” forward Justyn Mutts said. “Sometimes you’re going to have nights like that where the shots aren’t falling, and you have to rely on something else.”
In the second half, the Hokies were just 1-12 from beyond the arc, unable to hit open shots and pull away from VMI.
Some of these offensive issues could stem from the unexpected absence of Kansas State transfer Cartier Diarra. After missing a 7:15 a.m. COVID test on Wednesday, Diarra was ineligible to play on Thursday night.
“It was nothing out of the ordinary. He was contrite; he felt awful,” Young said. “He simply slept through his alarm and didn’t get over here to take his test. It’s Virginia Tech policy that if you don’t take your test the day before the game, that eliminates you from the next night’s game.”
The good news for Tech is that sophomore guard Jalen Cone was able to compete for the first time this season after suffering an offseason foot injury. Cone played just 14 minutes and made one of his four shots, all from beyond the arc.
“[He was] rusty, it’s the reason I didn’t want to throw him in the fire during Villanova and South Florida,” Young said. “I wanted to give him some time. He’ll round into shape really quick and y’all know that.”
To make up for the shooting issues, Tech was dominant on the boards. The Hokies outrebounded the Keydets, 48 to 30. This included a 15 to 6 advantage on the offensive glass.
“That was a really big emphasis from our coaches coming into the game – make sure we’re dominating the glass,” Mutts said. “We felt as if we had an advantage in terms of height and, you know, athleticism down there, so we’re able to get down there and utilize our advantage, and that’s what we were kind of able to do tonight.”
Once again, Tech was buoyed by the play of Wofford transfer Keve Aluma, who recorded his first double-double of the season and third of his career. Aluma led the Hokies with 17 points and 12 rebounds, including four offensive boards.
Mutts had his first big game with the Hokies against the Keydets as well. The Delaware transfer had ten points and nine rebounds, paired with a career-high six assists in a game where the Hokies only made 21 shots.
“Honestly, you just have to look at who I’m passing the ball too. I’m passing to guys who know exactly what to do with it,” Mutts said. “We did a really good job passing in the interior today. When guys are collapsing down into you, a lot of times, I was just able to look over and see Keve right there.”
Despite the solid play in the paint from Aluma and Mutts, the shooters on the outside struggled, specifically sophomore Nahiem Alleyne. After shooting over 50% from long range in the first three games, he was 0-of-7 from deep against VMI.
“This game will pay dividends for us. VMI fought and scrapped and they turned me inside out as they did a year ago,” Young said. “We had great shot after great shot and couldn’t get anything down. I just don’t understand how Nahiem Alleyne, such a terrific player, misses good shot after good shot.”
Tech also received contributions late from senior Wabissa Bede, who had 11 points, and Tyrece Radford, who added 13 points, including 6-of-7 shooting at the line.
“For a lot of people, probably every hooper, if you make more free throws, that’ll be your starting of the engine,” Radford said. “All you have to do is see the ball go in and you get to the line and make the free throws, and that’s what we did.”
The Keydets were led by senior guard Myles Lewis who put up a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. VMI’s leading scorer, Greg Parham, also added 12 points, including ten in the second half.
Despite these contributions, the Keydets still shot just 37% from the floor. They did perform better than Tech from three-point range, making 7-of-24 shots from the outside.
The Hokies have to feel lucky that this abysmal shooting night came against VMI and not either of their next two opponents. Before starting ACC competition against Clemson on Dec. 15, Tech’s next test comes on Tuesday when Penn State comes to Blacksburg for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Game Notes From Virginia Tech
Records and Notables
- Virginia Tech moves to 4-0 on the season after taking down VMI 64-57.
- This marks the third straight season the Hokies have started 4-0.
- Mike Young is now a perfect 11-0 versus VMI and head coach Dan Earl.
- Tech has now won nine straight against VMI and holds a 94-43 lead in the overall series.
- Tech has now won 34 consecutive nonconference home contests which is one of the longest active streaks in the country.
- UP NEXT: The Hokies will go up against Penn State in Blacksburg for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. ET.
- For the first time this season Virginia Tech started the same starting lineup in back-to-back outings with Wabissa Bede, Tyrece Radford, Nahiem Alleyne, Justyn Mutts and Keve Aluma all making the start.
- Tech grabbed a season-high 48 rebounds and a season-high 15 offensive rebounds.
- The Hokies scored 20 second chance points.
- Tech forced VMI to commit nine turnovers and the Hokies scored 13 points off those turnovers.
- KEY FIRST HALF RUN: With just over five minutes left in the half, tied at 16-16, Tech went on a 12-2 run giving the Hokies a 28-18 edge.
- KEY SECOND HALF RUN: Late in the second half the Hokies went on a 10-2 run to give Tech a 53-47 advantage. This run would prove to be enough as the Hokies defeated VMI 64-57.
- Guard Tyrece Radford scored in double figures for the third time this season and second straight outing.
- Forward Keve Aluma notched his first double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
- Redshirt junior Justyn Mutts dished out a season-high six assists and tied his season high in rebounds with nine, and also scored 10 points.
- Guard Wabissa Bede recorded a season-high 11 points and also grabbed a season-high four rebounds.