Date: Saturday, February 27
TV: The ACC Network
The season restart for Virginia Tech (14-5, 8-4) got off to a rough start with a 16-point loss to Georgia Tech on Tuesday, but the Hokies have a chance to bounce back against Wake Forest (6-12, 3-12) this weekend.
After 17 days off due to COVID issues within the Hokies’ program and their opponents’, Tech returned to the floor and couldn’t put a complete game together. The defense kept the Hokies in the game in the first half, keeping the game tied at halftime despite 11 Tech turnovers. However, the defense ran out of gas in the second half, giving up 45 points after the break, and Tech fell 69-53.
The Hokies were able to add two pieces back to rotation on Tuesday that should help jumpstart the team heading into the postseason. Cordell Pemsl saw minutes for the first time since late December and provides solid depth in the frontcourt behind Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts.
Tyrece Radford’s return to the lineup will be the most important addition for the Hokies down the stretch. After missing four games due to suspension, Radford returned and added 11 points in his first game back. He’s sure to produce more and more as he gets back to speed over the next few weeks.
In the Hokies’ first game against the Demon Deacons back in mid-January, Radford had one of his best games of the season, tallying 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting. The game was much more hotly contested than Tech may have expected, but the Hokies escaped with a 64-60 road victory, their first of the season.
Wake currently sits at 13th in the ACC and has lost its last four contests, the last three by 18 points or more. On Wednesday, the Demon Deacons had their worst performance of the year, scoring just 39 points in a 21-point home loss to Clemson.
The two bright spots for Wake are junior leaders Daivien Williamson and Isaiah Mucius. Williamson followed Head Coach Steve Forbes from ETSU and has taken over as the Deacs’ leading scorer. Despite the four straight losses, Williamson has played well, scoring in double digits in each contest.
Mucius has been Wake’s best bet in the paint, averaging over 10 points and five rebounds per game. The junior forward combined with Williamson for 21 points in the first match-up with the Hokies, but they shot just 7-of-20 from the floor. The duo will have to be more efficient on Saturday if the Deacs want to stay in it.
Wake is one of the slowest teams in the country, with an average offensive possession of almost 19 seconds. Tech has had success against slow teams this season, including the Hokies’ big win over Virginia, so expect a low-tempo game in Cassell Coliseum.
The Hokies will still be short-handed despite getting closer and closer to full strength. Jalen Cone will still be missing from the lineup with an ankle injury. Head Coach Mike Young said that the sophomore’s return will be “a little bit further down the road than he initially thought.”
It’s possible Cone could miss the rest of the regular season as the Hokies work to lock up a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. With just three games left, Tech currently sits in third in the conference, and the top four teams get an automatic bid to the tournament quarterfinals. While the Hokies are in a good position now, they’ll have to finish strong to stay in that spot. The difference between third and ninth in the ACC is just a game and a half.
After taking on Wake on Saturday, the Hokies finish up their home schedule with a make-up game against Louisville next Wednesday. Then, the season ends in Raleigh against NC State, who just pulled off a huge upset over Virginia earlier this week. The conference is tighter than ever this year, and this final week of play will be crucial for the Hokies’ overall postseason aspirations.