AUBURN, Ala. — Virginia Tech struggled to contain Auburn’s size and athleticism on Wednesday night in the ACC/SEC Challenge, falling 74-57 in its first road test of the season.
“Their length is real,” Tech head coach Mike Young said after the loss. “We didn’t handle it very well. I will look forward to going back and looking at it. We had the same kind of performance Sunday in Orlando. We’ve got to improve. I’ve got a good offensive team. I got to coach it better.”
The Hokies (5-3) never really found a rhythm offensively. They got off to a slow start, turning it over three times on their first four possessions, and against a well-balanced Tigers (5-1) team, they never recovered.
Tech finished 28 percent from the floor, the second-worst mark in the Mike Young era, marginally ahead of the 27 percent from the 2019-20 game at UVa. Thanks to stretches of OK defense — Auburn shot just 37 percent in the first half and 41 percent in the second — it was about a 15-point margin for most of the way.
“I feel like we just couldn’t make shots,” Tech freshman guard Jaydon Young said. “Struggles that everybody has. They came out early, they were making a lot of shots, playing really hard. So it was kind of hard to fight back from that. They’re a really good team. When we’re not making shots, it’s hard to beat other teams that’s really good.”
Auburn beat Tech just about everywhere. Johni Broome was a menace inside, finishing with 30 points (11-of-19 FG) and 13 rebounds, good for his 15th consecutive double-double. He was the best player on the floor and helped the Tigers dominate inside; they finished with 42 paint points to the Hokies’ 14. Lynn Kidd never got established and finished with just six points.
The Hokies struggled on the perimeter too. Sean Pedulla had arguably his worst game in a Tech uniform, finishing 0-of-9 with seven turnovers to just one assist. He seemed to force a number of opportunities, and the crowd chanting his name after he airballed a 3-pointer just piled on. As a result, Young turned to true freshman Brandon Rechsteiner, who he said thought played “quite well,” and gave him 12 minutes.
“He’s not playing very well,” Young said of Pedulla. “… You know how good he is, you know how important he is to our team. I take a lot of responsibility there. I’ve got to get to him. He’s tough. He has great intentions. He’s pressing. He’s struggling. We all go through tough spells as players. … I’ll get him taken care of.”
Tyler Nickel (0-of-5, three turnovers) couldn’t get going either. Hunter Cattoor was OK with a team-high 16 points but scored seven of that from the free throw line; from the floor, he was 4-of-11 and just 1-of-6 from three.
With sophomore guard MJ Collins out with a knee injury he suffered against Florida Atlantic in Orlando — Young said he expects Collins back on Sunday in the ACC opener vs. Louisville (4 p.m. ET, ACC Network) — there was even less depth than normal. Fortunately, Young gave Tech some good minutes. The former standout at Greensboro Day was 3-of-4 from long range and scored nine points, and he looked fluid out on the floor in his first road game.
“Really just staying ready,” Young said of his performance. “Not really dwelling on it and just being ready when my number’s called. I feel like I prepared enough so when my number was called, I was ready.”
“Been doing it a long time,” Mike Young said of Jaydon Young. “Those freshmen, there’s some peaks and valleys. I thought Rechsteiner was good tonight, helped our team. That is certainly a positive with a man down.”
John Camden also gave the Hokies a tiny boost with a nine-point performance, including a 2-of-3 night from deep. But the offensive struggles of Kidd (2-of-6), Pedulla and Nickel were hard to overcome, and Robbie Beran (0-of-1) and Mylyjael Poteat (1-of-4) were almost non-factors on that end. The only other bright spot at times was Mekhi Long, who had five points and seven boards in 18 minutes off the bench.
Virginia Tech was overwhelmed, however. It got behind early — Auburn led 18-4 not even seven minutes into the game — and couldn’t recover. Though it won the battle on the boards, 44-40, it never had a chance to control the tempo between turnovers and fouls. (There were 47 fouls for the game, which led to 67 free throws.) The Tigers had 30 points off Tech’s mistakes and another 26 off second-chance opportunities.
Outside of Broome, though, the next highest-scoring Tiger was Chad Baker-Mazara off the bench with 15 points. Tre Donaldson also contributed nine while Denver Jones had eight. It’s the first time this year Auburn’s shot below 41 percent.
“I don’t know that it sustained us, but better,” Young said of his defense. “I thought our defense in Orlando against Boise State and Iowa State was very, very good. Very good in the first half against FAU, who’s really good. … We’re trending in a good direction. We’ll need that on Sunday against the Cardinals.”
In some ways, it felt like déjà vu after the Hokies got whipped by the Owls. It was another poor result against a more physical, athletic team that made life difficult for Tech on the offensive end of the floor. Tech didn’t quite roll over like it appeared to do against FAU, which kept the score somewhat close on the Plains, but it never felt like Young’s crew had a chance after the first few minutes.
“They run really hard stuff to guard, but there’s a certain way to guard them,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I thought we did an outstanding job. … That team doesn’t turn the ball over. They turn the ball over eight times a game. And we were able to… again, the way the kids bought in and how hard they worked, that fits in with our depth. It made it difficult offensively.”
Tech now turns to Sunday’s meeting with Louisville, a 4-3 team who beat Bellarmine by five on Wednesday night. It’s a chance for the Hokies to start off league play on a positive note.
Box Score: Auburn 74, Virginia Tech 57