After an uncharacteristic performance against Wake Forest, Virginia Tech bounced back with a 93-60 victory over Cornell, in which it did a little bit of everything.
The Hokies (7-3, 0-1 ACC) hit their shots – 54% from the field, 52% from three – and rebounded well – 40-to-23 margin. They held the Big Red (8-2), who play at one of the fastest paces in the country, to 38.5% shooting and 60 points.
It was a nice way to get back on the right track, especially with a difficult stretch around the corner.
“I thought our team played a good ballgame,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said afterwards. “All nine guys in that top nine played well. Darius Maddox was outstanding, as was David N’Guessan. A real step in a positive direction on both sides of the ball.”
For the first time since December of 2016 (The Citadel), seven different Tech players scored in double figures. Keve Aluma led the way with 16 points, while Darius Maddox added 14. Nahiem Alleyne scored 13, Hunter Cattoor and Sean Pedulla had 11 each, and David N’Guessan and Justyn Mutts dropped ten apiece.
Tech had 16 assists on 34 made baskets (almost 50%), but that doesn’t tell the full story. The Hokies moved the ball with pace, and unlike previous games where the rock seemed to sit too long in one place, it was all over the floor. Storm Murphy and Mutts each finished with four assists.
Ball movement is always important, but it was crucial when Cornell helped on the inside or doubled a player penetrating the lane. That created wide open looks and Virginia Tech took advantage, hitting a season-high 12 three-pointers.
“I thought we had rhythm shots,” Young said. “I thought Mutts was really, really good. … Good distribution. I thought Alleyne was really good. I thought the ball moved better. It didn’t stick. Our ball was sticking on Saturday against Wake Forest. [I’m] encouraged by that.”
Defensively, Young & Co. did a solid job for 40 minutes against Cornell, a team that entered Wednesday averaging 90 points per contest. Tech only allowed the Big Red to make just ten field goals in each half and shut them down when it mattered most.
With 9:25 to play in the first half, Keller Boothby hit a three-pointer to bring the game within a point, 25-24. Cornell was on a quick 6-0 run and was hanging around.
In a flash, the Hokies buckled down and pulled away. From the 7:45-mark forward, it was all Virginia Tech as the team went on a 20-3 run over the next 6:39. The lead jumped from one to 18, and the Big Red were just 1-13 from the field over the course of that span.
Young praised his group’s connectivity, something that he didn’t see from Tech against Wake Forest.
“Just better attention to detail,” Young said on what his team did better defensively on Wednesday. “We looked… I don’t know what we looked like. We looked like garbage [vs. Wake Forest] is what we looked like. I’m responsible for that, but they’re smart people, they’re conscientious people and they responded very, very well on Monday, which was as good of a practice as we’ve had in a while.
“Tuesday’s practice, which was a lot of preparation for Cornell, was outstanding. We’ve got to continue to put those days together in the days ahead. … We do have Sunday at Dayton and Friday at Charlotte vs. St. Bonaventure, so we’ll have time to sharpen the saw [in between games], and this team needs it.”
Maddox and Pedulla each had a career night in points and minutes, and Maddox is a player that has grown into his own this season. He’s been averaging anywhere from 16-to-18 minutes per game but played 23 well-deserved minutes on Wednesday.
“Honestly, with me, it’s more just keeping my head,” Maddox said postgame. “After last year, it didn’t really go too well for me, and I could’ve gotten mad and transferred or had bad energy, but it’s me just being really confident in myself and the work I put in and confident in the coaches and knowing that the coaches are there for me.”
Maddox said not playing much in 2020-21 as a freshman was really important to his development because he got to take so much in. The biggest difference between him now and who he was last season: Confidence, a statement that’s been echoed by many players in the program.
“I came in my freshman year confident in my game, and working with coaches that summer and getting my body right, and just being more cohesive with what coach wants me to do in-game and in practice,” Maddox said.
Maddox and Cattoor each hit four of their eight field goal attempts on the night, while Alleyne was 5-11. Aluma led the way with an efficient eight-of-nine. Tech hit eight of its 14 threes in the second half, too, and Pedulla, Cattoor and Alleyne all hit two of them in the final 20 minutes.
Now, the Hokies turn their attention to arguably the most difficult part of their stretch all season. Two non-conference games remain, a road test at Dayton (6-4) and a neutral site game vs. St. Bonaventure (8-1) in Charlotte. That’s before the ACC gets back underway, and Tech has a late-December gauntlet, playing at Duke (7-1) and at North Carolina (6-2, 1-0 ACC).
These next four games will really test Virginia Tech’s ability to defend, as well as move the ball and play as a cohesive unit on the offensive end. All four foes match up size-wise or are lengthier, and Young’s crew will have to be ready.
Were the Hokies finally back to normal defensively vs. Cornell?
“Yeah, now let’s do it against somebody our own size, and that’s coming,” Young said. “I told them in the locker room, ‘let’s embrace hard, because what we’re about to encounter is hard, but that’s what we sign up for,’ and I know our coaching staff is excited for the road ahead.”
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