There were more anxious moments than the Hokies would have liked, but No. 24 Virginia Tech (7-1) pulled away late against Longwood (1-7) for an 84-58 win in its final non-conference game.
“I think we had good energy and were guarding really well in the second half,” sophomore guard Jalen Cone said. “I think that’s what really sparked us and allowed us to take that big lead; we were guarding the ball very well and it just led to great offensive plays.”
Cone was the star of the night for the second straight outing. The sharpshooter rained in six threes on his way to a team-leading 18 points.
“He scores them in bunches, and he can really deflate a team’s defense with his ability to stop on a dime, rise up and make them,” Young said. “I think this is his fifth game back and I thought, for the first time against Coppin State, I saw that little rat that I came to appreciate many years ago flying off of pin-downs and other actions that we put him in and catching, getting in the air and putting them down.”
It looked like it would be an early night for many of the starters after the first ten minutes. After Longwood took an early 8-7 lead, the Hokies piled on 17 of the next 19 points to pull away from the Lancers, but it wouldn’t last long.
After opening the game 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, the Hokies missed ten in a row and Longwood closed the gap to just four points at halftime.
“Certainly, some of the credit goes to Longwood; those kids came in here with a good plan,” Young said. “They played hard and they competed with us. This is a big game for them and a big game for us.”
The score remained close until the Hokies went on a 15-3 run following the under-eight media timeout capped off by back-to-back Cone threes.
Despite Cone’s performance from beyond the arc, the Hokies couldn’t repeat their performance from Saturday night against Coppin State when they poured in 20 shots from long-range. The rest of Tech’s roster combined to shoot 4-of-17 from deep. As a team, the Hokies were 10-of-32 (31.3%) from the outside.
The struggles from three-point range weren’t an issue in the second half as the Hokies shot 59.4% from the floor and outscored Longwood 50-28.
“The first half was definitely a little frustrating, but we just locked in and tried to do our best defensively,” forward Keve Aluma said. “We just had movement and were confident shooting the ball.”
Tech’s advantage over the Lancers came on the offensive glass. The Hokies grabbed 14 offensive rebounds which turned into 21 second-chance points.
“It definitely gives us a big advantage,” Aluma said. “Coach always emphasizes to me and Justyn [Mutts] and everyone to crash the glass, so that’s what we do.”
It was also a much more efficient night for Young’s squad after turning the ball over 18 times on Saturday. The Hokies had just eight against the Lancers, paired with 19 assists. Senior guard Wabissa Bede added eight of those all by himself.
“I’ve said it, you can’t turn the ball over and to be eight games in, and overall we have a negative assist-turnover ratio; I’m not sure I’ve ever had a team do that,” Young said. “We know the importance of it and the significance of it. Tonight was a step in a positive direction.”
Many of Bede’s dimes were dropped in to Aluma, who continued his steady scoring trend with 14 points on the night. Aluma also added three blocks and two steals on the other end of the floor.
“I was just trying to be aggressive [defensively] and focus in as much as I can,” Aluma said. “Sometimes, I get in the habit of taking plays off, so I was just trying to stay focused 100% of the time.”
Freshman Joe Bamisile flashed for the second game in a row, adding 11 points in just five minutes late in the contest. Bamisile shot just 1-of-13 entering Saturday’s game with Coppin State, but is 7-of-10 over the last two matchups.
“He’s had a couple of good days and I have a greater level of trust in him,” Young said. “He’s trying and doing a better job for us defensively.”
The Hokies have eight days off for the holidays before finishing up their six-game homestand with Miami on December 29. Tech hopes to be at full strength with sophomore center John Ojiako possibly returning from a torn meniscus which would be some good relief in the paint as the ACC schedule heats up.