One week removed from a 20-point loss against Penn State, Virginia Tech (5-1) bounced back with a 66-60 win over #24 Clemson (5-1) on Tuesday night in Blacksburg.
“I feel good about our team. We really fought,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “We defended and rebounded, and those are two good ingredients to have going into a league opener against a really good Clemson team.”
It wasn’t quite as easy as Tech had hoped considering the Hokies had a 16-point second half lead which dwindled down to two in the final 30 seconds of the game. Tyrece Radford had two lay-ups in the last minute and the Hokies made their final four free throws to ice the game away.
“We are only six games in, we still have a lot to improve on. We gave up a 16-point lead, and they started throwing up three’s left and right,” Young said. “We did a great job throughout the first half and early portion of the second half. We fouled too much. We will look at the game in its totality and make corrections.”
Radford led the Hokies with 15 points including an emphatic slam over Clemson’s John Newman III late in the first half.
Clemson clawed back in with a 9-0 run leading up to the final two minutes of the game. The Tigers’ leading scorer entering the game, Aamir Simms, scored the final six points on that run. Simms added 13 of his 15 points in the second half despite being in foul trouble most of the game.
“We need to sustain and hold the lead, that’s what we need to focus on,” Radford said. “That’s going to be on my mind, and that’s definitely going to be what I watch on film tonight, over and over again.”
Tech’s focus was clearly on the defensive end following the issues last week against the Nittany Lions. Clemson didn’t score until after the first media timeout in the first half and was held scoreless for just over seven minutes early in the second half.
Clemson shot under 40% from the floor and gave the ball away 14 times on the day as Tech played smothering defense almost all night.
““I was frustrated and down after Penn State. Again, take nothing away from the Nittany Lions, they came in here and just outplayed us. It was frustrating, our team was frustrated and upset with it,” Young said. “We had a little time to practice, and we needed it. To bounce back and scrap and claw and play maybe not a complete game, but it certainly did a lot of nice things to get out of here with a significant win.””
Offensively, the Hokies struggled early on once again, turning the ball over 11 times in the first half. Although they cleaned things up in the second half, they still finished with a season-high 17 turnovers. However, Tech was able to put up 66 points on Clemson’s defense which had been allowing just 51.4 points per game entering Tuesday night’s contest.
Tech’s main source of success offensively was getting to the free throw line. The Hokies took 31 foul shots and made 25 of them against the Tigers. This comes after shooting just 9-of-18 at the stripe against PSU last week.
“I don’t think you have to emphasize making free throws,” Young said. “Making half your fouls is bad and costs you games. We’ve got a good shooting team; we have kids who shoot fouls well.”
Keve Aluma took 12 of those free throws and knocked down nine of them for the majority of his 13 points.
Nahiem Alleyne also added 13 in a huge bounce back game. After shooting 1-of-11 from long range in the previous two games, Alleyne hit 3-of-5 from deep on Tuesday.
Clemson had plenty of success from outside as well. After starting with six straight misses, the Tigers knocked down 10 of their final 19 from beyond the arc. Half of these could be attributed to Al-Amir Dawes, who led all scorers with 18 points.
The win was dampened post-game with the news that Kansas State transfer Cartier Diarra had opted out due to COVID-19 concerns. The graduate point guard was averaging 7.5 points and 2.5 rebounds through his first four games with the Hokies.
“He has opted out for the time being with regards to COVID. That doesn’t mean anything more
than that,” Young said. “He could be back tomorrow; he could be back sometime in the near future. That was his choice, and it was a choice that I supported with everything going on. That is where we are, nothing more nothing less.”
This is the Hokies’ second win over a ranked opponent this season, the other being Tech’s huge upset win over Villanova in Connecticut. After receiving votes this week, the Hokies have a good shot to return to the rankings on Monday.
“I think it is premature to say we are “for real”, we are better,” Young said. “It was a good night for the Hokies, I am really proud of our team, we took some legitimate steps forward.”
Before those rankings are released, the Hokies play the first of their final two non-conference matchups against Coppin State (1-5) on Saturday. Tech will turn around to face Longwood (1-5) on Monday before the ACC season kicks into high gear after the holidays.