Virginia Tech never had a chance to get going in the second round of the ACC tournament vs. NC State. From the opening tip, the Wolfpack dominated, rarely missed and punched the Hokies squarely in the gut.
NC State flattened Tech in a 97-77 contest on Wednesday night in Greensboro. The Wolfpack shot 64% from the floor in the first half, 62% for the game and blew Tech’s doors off. It scored the most points the Hokies have ever given up in an ACC tournament game, including 53 in the first half.
It didn’t matter that Mike Young’s group tried to make it respectable in the latter portion; the game was seemingly decided by halftime. Tech (19-14) faced its largest deficit of the year – 27 – at intermission, 53-26, and trailed by double figures for close to 30 minutes.
“In the first half, we didn’t come out with fire,” Tech guard Rodney Rice told Tech Sideline after the game. “That’s what we needed to do. That was it right there – that was the whole thing. … We just needed to play with more urgency.”
Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner combined to outscore Virginia Tech 33-26 in the first half on 13-of-20 shooting. The duo helped NC State (23-9) make seven of its 13 3-point attempts, and the defense against Tech was superb.
The Hokies made just eight of their 25 field goals (32%) and were 1-of-8 from deep in the early stages. They were also outrebounded by 10, 21-11, and turned the ball over seven times. NC State got everything it wanted on both ends of the floor, and Kevin Keatts & Co. had no problem running away with it.
“I thought they played harder than us,” Justyn Mutts said. “For the duration of the game, I thought they just played harder than us. They got a lot of the 50-50 balls, a lot of offensive rebounds. At the end of the day, you can’t win a game giving up the small stuff, even if the team is making every shot they take.”
In the second half, VT was better on the offensive end, but it didn’t matter. Both sides lit it up from the field and were above 60%.
In what was potentially his final collegiate game, Justyn Mutts was one of three Hokies in double figures with 15 points (6-of-10 FG). He also grabbed five rebounds and had three assists. Grant Basile finished with 11 points, too.
Rice came alive in the second half, knocking down threes on back-to-back possessions. He scored 15 of his 17 down the stretch, finishing 5-of-7 from long range.
“He’s had such a frustrating year,” Mike Young said. “Certainly, a freshman that had such high hopes, we had such high hopes for, and battled through a number of really difficult injuries. And to get back here and play a cluster of games and play well and be part of the rotation, I think he played 17 minutes last night, his first night in the ACC tournament. I thought he played well. I thought he looked comfortable, and that is a great sign for us moving ahead.”
Though NC State switched a bunch of things and made it difficult, Hunter Cattoor chipped in nine points. Sean Pedulla matched that while Lynn Kidd had six and MJ Collins provided two.
In the first half, Virginia Tech got into the bonus before the nine-minute mark, which helped. It was 9-of-10 from the stripe before halftime. But it couldn’t stop the explosive attack that was the Wolfpack.
Smith and Joiner, two Second Team All-ACC performers, finished with 30 and 20 points, respectively. Smith was three points shy of his season-high 33 points. Joiner surpassed the 20-point mark for the fifth instance in his last seven games and also had 10 assists. They only had one turnover between them, too, an offensive foul on Smith.
“They can just hit tough shots,” Cattoor said. “At the end of the day, if you feel like you’re playing good defense on them and they can still bang a shot, it doesn’t take a lot for them to get going. One or two shots in the basket and their energy’s up a little bit more, their basket is a little bit bigger for them. … They’re two great players and they lead that team.”
Ebenzer Dowuona gave the Wolfpack a lift with a season-high 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. All of the production for the 6-11 big man came in the first half. It was a team effort for NC State – Jack Clark (11 points), Casey Morsell (six), Breon Pass (six), Greg Gantt (four), Ernest Ross (four) and D.J. Burns Jr. (three) all got on the scoresheet.
As it stands, Virginia Tech is on the NIT bubble. It would be a disappointing end to the season, particularly after winning the 2022 ACC championship and advancing to the Big Dance in back-to-back years. It’s been a roller coaster of a year, however. If the Hokies hear their name called at 10 p.m. on Sunday, they’ll be appreciative that they get at least one more opportunity on the floor with their teammates.
“At the end of the day, this is the end of the road for me,” Mutts said, “so to be able to play more games with my guys, it’d be a blessing.”
Box Score: NC State 97, Virginia Tech 77
Virginia Tech transcript: Link