Hokies Drop Another Close Game 69-64

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Another major conference team fell to a mid-major on Sunday, and for the second time since Thursday, it was Virginia Tech. The Hokies got themselves into a hole early, but couldn’t quite climb out of it, falling 69-64 to the Salukis in their final game of the Old Spice Classic. Virginia Tech drops to 3-2 on the season, while Southern Illinois improves to 4-1.

The Hokies lost this game because of free throw shooting and inside play. Tech shot well from the line, but only attempted 10 free throws for the game, hitting seven of them. Southern Illinois did not shoot well from the charity stripe, but they went to the line 27 times and hit 17 of their attempts, good for 63%. That’s not a good number, but they did score 10 more points from the line than Tech, and it was a big part of their victory.

Robert Krabbendam missed the game with an injury, and the Hokies went small, with A.D. Vassallo starting in his place. Coleman Collins started, but was unproductive again. He did not score in the game, and he had just one rebound in 15 minutes of action.

Seth Greenberg opted for sophomore forward Cheick Diakite in place of Collins, and he responded with nine points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes. Diakite was 3-of-4 from the field, 3-of-4 from the free throw line, did not commit a turnover and blocked a shot. It was easily the best game of his young career.

Deron Washington paced the Hokies with 18 points in 24 minutes. He was 7-of-10 from the field and grabbed three rebounds. He had several tip-ins on offensive rebounds. He was also active on the defensive end, with three steals and a block.

Zabian Dowdell continued his good play with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He was 2-of-4 from three-point range. Jamon Gordon added eight points, five rebounds, five steals and four assists. Freshman point guard Nigel Munson had another strong game off the bench with seven points and four assists.

Southern Illinois got off to a fast start, leading by as many as 10 points in the first half. Forward Randal Falker was hot early, scoring 11 of the Salukis’ first 24 points. One of the reasons the Hokies fell behind early is because they had committed eight turnovers by the 11:51 mark of the first half against a Southern Illinois defense that likes to pressure the ball. They settled down and had just 10 turnovers the rest of the game, but the opening minutes were very costly.

Falker was hot early, but he slowed down when Diakite became a fixture in the lineup for the Hokies. Tech was able to crawl back into the game at the end of the first half. They cut the lead to 24-23 with 3:11 remaining on a layup by Diakite, but the Salukis scored the last four points of the half to take a 28-23 lead into intermission.

Southern Illinois threatened to run away several times in the second half, but the Hokies responded with runs each time. The Salukis led 36-24 with 17:54 left, 41-30 at the 15:26 mark, and 49-40 with 11:47 remaining. But Virginia Tech refused to go away.

After the Salukis grabbed a 49-40 lead, Tech responded with a 15-4 run. Zabian Dowdell scored eight points during the run. Trailing 53-52, A.D. Vassallo nailed a three-pointer to put the Hokies up 55-53 to cap the run with 7:14 left in the game. The Salukis hit two free throws to tie the game, but Vassallo hit another three to put Tech up 58-55 at the 5:55 mark. That was the last time the Hokies led.

With 50 seconds left in the game, Jamon Gordon drove the lane and dished to an open Cheick Diakite for an easy dunk to tie the game at 64. But with 24 seconds remaining, Jamal Tatum drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to put the Salukis up 67-64. On the other end, A.D. Vassallo missed a three-pointer with six seconds left, and the game appeared to be over.

But like the Western Michigan game on Thursday, the Hokies were given one last chance. Tatum missed two free throws for the Salukis, and Tech had the ball with 2.9 seconds left after a timeout. They attempted a full court heave into the corner, but Jamon Gordon stepped out of bounds as he corralled the tough long distance pass. Matt Shaw hit two free throws for Southern Illinois to make the score 69-64.

The Hokies return to action on Wednesday night when they host the Iowa Hawkeys in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Tipoff is scheduled for 7pm, and the game will be televised by ESPNU.

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