Virginia Tech had a massive second half rally and nearly upset Syracuse, but ultimately fell 68-66 in Cassell Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies dropped to 8-6 overall and 0-1 in the ACC, while the Orange improved to 10-4 and 1-0 in conference play.
This was a tale of two halves. The Hokies were thoroughly outclassed in the first half, and fell behind by 22 points before going to the intermission trailing 42-23. Playing without r-junior center Joey van Zegeren (suspension) and freshman wing Jalen Hudson (back injury), Tech looked lost for the first 20 minutes, they weren’t active defensively, and they were completely outrebounded.
The second half was a different story. Syracuse managed just seven points in the first 12+ minutes of the second half. The Hokies were very active defensively, and they were much more physical inside with All-ACC big man Rakeem Christmas. They were also much better at penetrating against the vaunted Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone, and they were gradually able to chip away at the lead.
14:28 mark: 12 point lead
13:05 mark: 9 point lead
11:27 mark: 7 point lead
9:26 mark: 6 point lead
7:17 mark: 4 point lead
6:35 mark: 2 point lead
After two free throws by Devin Wilson that cut the Syracuse lead to 51-49, Justin Bibbs came up with a steal and the Hokies got a fast break. However, Wilson missed a contested layup that would have tied the game, and Shane Henry missed the putback. After that, the Orange were able to extend their lead back out to 11 points – 62-51 – at the 2:21 mark.
That didn’t mean the Hokies were done. Buzz Williams managed the game brilliantly with his use of timeouts and fouls down the stretch, and his players hit a number of key shots to keep Tech in the game. They kept plugging away, and eventually an Ahmed Hill three-point attempt with just over four seconds left cut the Syracuse lead to 68-66. Tech immediately fouled Ron Patterson, who missed both free throws with 4.3 seconds left.
Justin Bibbs grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball up the court and drew help defense. He pitched the ball into the left corner to r-freshman guard Malik Mueller. Mueller got a decent look, but Syracuse is a very lengthy team, and his three-point attempt fell just short as time expired, though it was on line.
Bibbs led the Hokies with 22 points, which tied a career high. He also grabbed 11 rebounds, which was a career high. It was his first career double-double. Devin Wilson pitched in with 13 points, eight assists and just one turnover.
To show what a complete turnaround the second half was, consider the fact that at one point Syracuse held a 21-8 rebounding edge in the first half, including eight offensive rebounds. For the rest of the game the Hokies outrebounded the much bigger Orange 26-21, and they also held them to just 31.8% from the field in the second half (39% for the game). Syracuse shot 16 three-pointers in the first half, but attempted only five in the second half as Tech did a much better job of accounting for shooters. At one several points in the second half, Tech had nobody taller than 6-5 on the court because of their lack of post players.
There’s no such thing as a moral victory in sports, but hopefully their performance in the second half against quality competition shows Tech’s young players exactly what it takes to be successful at this level.
The Hokies return to action on Tuesday, January 6 at 7pm when they travel to Florida State for the first of three consecutive ACC road games. The game will be televised by RSN. Check your local listings.