Virginia Tech ran out of gas over the final 10 minutes of the game, and a comfortable lead turned into a narrow 65-62 win over Gardner-Webb on Friday night. The Hokies are now 1-0 on the season, and they look forward to a Monday night matchup with Mount St. Mary’s.
It was a crazy night of college basketball that saw VMI stroll into Rupp Arena and knock off Kentucky 111-103, and the Hokies narrowly avoided the same fate against a dangerous Gardner-Webb squad which also knocked off Kentucky last season.
Senior forward A.D. Vassallo scored 19 points for the Hokies on 7-of-16 shooting. Vassallo’s stat line was very good across the board. He also grabbed six rebounds, dished out six assists and blocked two shots without committing a single turnover. Vassallo played all but one minute of the game.
Jeff Allen added 19 points, nine rebounds and two steals. 17 of his points came in the first half. The Hokies had trouble getting him the ball in the second half. Yet again, Tech’s Achilles’ heel on offense appears to be getting the ball inside against a tight zone defense.
Sophomore guard Malcolm Delaney added 15 points, six rebounds and four assists. He and Vassallo were both 3-of-10 from three-point range. The Hokies attempted 26 three-pointers against the Gardner-Webb zone, but knocked down just seven of them. They were a solid 5-of-14 (35.7%) in the first half, but were just 2-of-12 (16.7%) over the final 20 minutes of the game.
The Hokies planned to go small against Gardner-Webb’s small lineup. However, they found out on Wednesday that they would be without the services of J.T. Thompson, who is out 4-6 weeks with a sports hernia. They had to go with an improvised lineup, and the lack of depth showed over the final 10 minutes of the game. Only eight Hokies played more than two minutes in this contest. However, fatigue can’t be used as an excuse, as four Gardner-Webb players were on the court for 32 minutes or more.
The first half went very well for the Hokies. Malcolm Delaney hit a three-pointer with 13:38 remaining in the half, and that put Tech up 17-6. Meanwhile, Gardner-Webb’s offense was struggling to get anything going against a tight Tech defense.
The Bulldogs got back into it behind a lights out first half by Grayson Flittner. Flittner scored 17 points in the first half, and hit 5-of-9 attempts from three-point range. He kept Gardner-Webb in the game for most of the first half, but the Hokies gradually pulled away, leading by as many as 18 points on a Jeff Allen jumper with 5:10 remaining to make the score 36-18. Virginia Tech eventually went into halftime with a 40-26 lead.
The early portions of the second half didn’t appear much different than the first half. The teams played each other evenly through the first 10 minutes of the second half, and an A.D. Vassallo layup with 11:36 left in the game put the Hokies up by 18 again, 56-38.
At that point Tech went cold. They did not score again until a Malcolm Delaney three-pointer with 8:17 left in the game. That extended their lead back to 13, but it was one of just two field goals the Hokies made after Vassallo’s shot put them up by 18.
The other field goal was not a result of great offensive execution. 5-9 point guard Hank Thorns found himself under the basket, and scored on a putback of a missed Dorenzo Hudson jumper to make the score 62-53 with 5:52 remaining in the game.
The Hokies managed to gut this one out down the stretch. Malcolm Delaney missed the front end of a one-and-one with four seconds remaining and the Hokies up 65-62. Gardner-Webb rebounded, but a last second 30-footer by Aaron Linn bounced off the front of the rim and off the backboard, ending the game.
Virginia Tech came into this game with three proven scorers in A.D. Vassallo, Jeff Allen and Malcolm Delaney. They needed Dorenzo Hudson and Terrell Bell to step up at the other wing spot, and Cheick Diakite and Lewis Witcher to provide good minutes at the final starting spot in the post.
They didn’t get good production from either duo on Friday. Hudson and Bell combined for four points on 2-of-12 shooting, and Hudson had a team-high five turnovers. Diakite and Witcher combined for six points and four rebounds in a total of 25 minutes of action. The Hokies will need better production from their role players if they want to have a successful season.
Virginia Tech returns to action on Monday night against Mount St. Mary’s. Tipoff is scheduled for 8pm, and the game will be televised by Comcast SportsNet.