Stingy Defense, Emphasis on Rebounding & Jalen Cone Lead Virginia Tech Past Notre Dame

Mike Young was "certain" the Hokies would play better on Sunday against the Fighting Irish, and boy was he right. Virginia Tech was terrific on the boards and on defense in the bounce-back win.

Mike Young was "certain" the Hokies would play better on Sunday against the Fighting Irish, and boy was he right. Virginia Tech was terrific on the boards and on defense in the bounce-back win.

Entering Sunday night, No. 19 Virginia Tech needed a standout performance defensively. The Hokies hadn't played a solid 40 minutes of defense since holding Clemson to 38% shooting on Dec. 15.

When Tech was challenged, it answered the bell, holding Notre Dame to 10.5% (2-19) shooting from the floor in the second half en route to a 77-63 victory in Cassell Coliseum.

"We guarded in the second half the way we wanted to guard in the first half," Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said. "We communicated much better [and] we were able to keep a body on a body. We had a couple of textbook possessions. Notre Dame, who is really good offensively, had a tough time getting a shot.

"We had a goal: we wanted to limit Notre Dame to less than eight [three-pointers]. When our assistant coach that had the scout said that, I kind of took a step backwards like, 'Holy cow! Good luck with that one.'... They had five [three-pointers] in the first half, we had five in the first half. Extraordinary."

Tech allowed Miami to shoot 54% (40% from three) and score 38 points in the paint on Dec. 29. Against Louisville on Wednesday, the Hokies allowed the Cardinals to score 30 paint points and make 47%.

After the Fighting Irish shot 55% in the first half from the field, Virginia Tech (9-2, 3-1) ramped up the defense and allowed only two Notre Dame (3-7, 0-4 ACC) field goals. The Irish did score 21 second half points, but 16 of those came from the free throw line. All-in-all, Tech limited the Irish — which on average score 39.1% of their points from distance — to 6 triples (28.6%).

"In the first half, Notre Dame was catching it and shooting it," Virginia Tech guard Jalen Cone said. "We didn't force them to put it on the floor or force them to take tough shots. In the second half, we were there on the catch and forced them to take tough shots, which allowed us to get stops."

Cone had the signature performance in Tech's third ACC win of the season, scoring 18 points on 5-12 shooting, including making four of ten three-point field goals. He's been a force for the Hokies, especially as of late.

"He is a great igniter of momentum," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "He can really get them going, and he jump-started them a few times."

Cone's four first half threes helped wrangle any sort of insurmountable Notre Dame lead and kept Tech within seven points (42-35) at intermission.

The 5'10" sophomore has received all kinds of praise since returning to Tech's rotation against VMI on Dec. 15 after an offseason foot injury. After a career-high 23 points at Louisville, Cardinals head coach Chris Mack called Cone "a freak show," saying "he's a terrific player." On Sunday night, compliments came from Brey and CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein.

A quote still rings true from when Cone committed to Tech in May of 2019: "I see myself being the center piece for distributing and scoring. They need Jalen Cone and Coach Young's system has Jalen Cone written all over it."

In 2019-20, Cone led the Hokies in scoring twice — against Syracuse (19 points) and Louisville (15 points). Through eleven games in 2020-21, he's led Tech in scoring five times.

After Tech's win over Longwood on Dec. 21, in which Cone led the Hokies with 18 points, Young outlined some of what makes Cone such a threat on the offensive end.

"He scores in bunches so he can really deflate a team's defense with his ability to stop on a dime and rise up and make them," Young said. "He's a good basketball player, one that we need as we head into the meat of our ACC schedule."

Safe to say the head ball coach knows his stuff. Cone has led Tech in scoring in two of four ACC contests this season.

He had help against Notre Dame, though. Three other Hokies joined him in double figures: Keve Aluma (15 points, 12 rebounds, second double-double at Tech), Hunter Cattoor (15 points, 3-5 from three, four rebounds) and Justyn Mutts (14 points, 7-13 FG, seven rebounds).

After an off-night against Louisville where he scored just 11 points on 3-10 shooting, Aluma bounced back and was efficient, converting five of nine field goal attempts and hitting five of six free throws. He scored eight of his 15 points in the second half.

Mutts and Cattoor helped carry the Hokies after intermission too. After shooting a combined 2-9 in the first half (1-7 from Mutts, 1-2 from Cattoor), the two lit up the scoring column, each adding 12 points in the second half. Mutts was a perfect six for six while Cattoor drained two threes and made four of eight field goal attempts.

"That boy [Cattoor] played a really good ball game," Young said. "I think he did a nice job on his match. He had Wertz on several possessions. I think with what we're doing with switching and trying to keep bodies on those guys that can shoot it so well, I thought he was active and engaged. Really moved his feet well.

"I thought his overall play in 26 minutes was pretty special. It went a long way in helping us win."

Tech was without forward Cordell Pemsl, which Young said was injury related and his status against Duke on Tuesday is doubtful.

"His back is all jacked up. He was at Louisville and was uncomfortable. He is with our medical team and they are doing everything they can to get us back with us."

Despite having less depth, the frontcourt came to play. True freshman David N'Guessan even contributed one basket and an assist in seven minutes.

"I don't think we walk out of this game with a win without the frontcourt playing the way they played," Cone said. "We watched the Louisville game and we saw that when the game came down to the last shot, we saw those extra possessions and extra rebounds they got to get second-chance shots. That was a big emphasis on today's game and I think Justyn Mutts, Keve Aluma and Tyrece Radford did a very good job giving us extra possessions."

In Mike Young's 43 games in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech is 11-2 when four players score in double figures. It's nice when you score the ball, but it sure makes life a heckuva lot easier when you rebound the basketball well.

The Hokies outrebounded the Irish 41-24 — that's a +17 margin for those of you keeping score at home. It's the third time Tech has recorded a double-digit rebounding margin this season (+18 vs. VMI, +14 vs. Coppin State) and just the fifth time in Young's tenure. In 2019, the Hokies had a +15 margin against Delaware State and a +19 margin against Maryland Eastern Shore.

The most impactful rebounding statistic, however, is that Tech grabbed 16 offensive boards, good for 15 second chance points. Last season, VT only grabbed more than ten offensive rebounds twice in ACC play — at Miami (13) and vs. North Carolina in the ACC Tournament (11) — and only five times overall. This season, the Hokies have reached that mark six times.

Sunday's 16 offensive boards is the second-most for Tech in Young's two seasons, only less than 19 in the aforementioned Maryland Eastern Shore game.

"We outrebounded them [Notre Dame] by 17. That'll win a lot of ball games for you," Young said. "I think we can rebound with anyone this year... I just hated how we [were getting] mauled on the glass night in and night out last year. I knew we would be better with this team, but it's got to be every time out. It's going to be enormous on Tuesday against Duke. I'm pleased with it, but there's work still to do."

The Irish fought and tried to crawl back into the game in the second half but Tech silenced them on the offensive end. Nate Laszewski, the ACC's most efficient scorer, was held to just three made field goals on six attempts. He scored 11 of his 17 points from the free throw line.

Dane Goodwin, who was in a slump as of late, came out of the woodwork and gave Notre Dame a lift in the first half with ten points. He finished with 12 points while Ryan Cormac was the only other Irish player in double figures with ten.

Prentiss Hubb and Juwan Durham, two players that were potential x-factors heading into Sunday's matchup, were held to a combined 15 points. The duo averaged 23 points entering the game.

In the first half, the Irish had ten assists on 16 made baskets and just five turnovers. Tech's stingy defense forced seven second half turnovers and allowed just one assist. Hubb committed five of those turnovers, which tied a season-high.

The win means the Hokies improve to 3-1 in the ACC for just the fifth time since joining the conference in 2004.

"I take absolutely nothing away from Louisville, but I don't think we were Virginia Tech on Wednesday," Young said. "I didn't think we were very good in the first half here, but we got some things together and that was as good as a half as we have had in quite some time."

Looking Ahead to Duke

Though nice to get back in the win column, Tech can't enjoy its victory over Notre Dame for long with No. 21 Duke on the horizon on Tuesday.

The Blue Devils got the best of the Hokies in both games last season, winning 77-63 in Blacksburg in December and 88-64 in Durham in February.

In last season's meeting in Cassell Coliseum, Tech led at intermission but couldn't hang with Duke's 50% shooting in the second half. The Hokies were ice cold from behind the arc, making just five of 20 attempts.

This year's Duke team is very talented but is young and has underperformed at times throughout the season. The Blue Devils are No. 14 in adjusted offensive efficiency No. 38 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Duke also ranks in the top 100 in four of the four factors categories, per — effective offensive field goal percentage, offensive rebound percentage on both sides of the ball and defensive turnover percentage.

Tech has shown they can score the ball consistently, even with some of the best defensive teams in the country like Clemson (No. 1) and Louisville (No. 22). If the Hokies want to defeat Duke for the first time in four meetings, they'll have to defend at the same quality as the second half against ND. Slowing down the Blue Devils is the key to success.

"​The moment we stepped in the locker room after the game, all of our attention turned towards our upcoming game with Duke," Cone said. "We talked about them a little bit, and we're starting to prepare for them now.​"


Great write up, thanks for the insight Cunna!

VB born, class of '14

Love these basketball write-ups! Love this team!

Cattoor got his logo-3 one game too late 🙂

The last two games have shown some red flags, but I loved the response. This team has too achillies heels. First, they are so unselfish that guys have a tendency to pass up shots where they get to the lane. That is where a Justin Robinson was so important- his ability to finish opened up the wings.

Second, when shots stop falling, the defensive intensity starts to drop. Late in the first half, the Hokies were not hitting shots and then weren't not stopping the ball on secondary breaks.

The good news is that the team responded with outstanding defensive intensity in the second half. I don't think this is a team capable of making a long tournament run just yet. However, you have to like the mettle and style of play.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Agree on both points. This team does have a tendency to allow an offense slump to become a defense slump - and give up big runs to the opposition.

I want to see cassel with thousands of wacky inflatable arm fans and a danny devito amongst them dancing as well.

Directions from Blacksburg to whoville, go north till you smell it then go east until you step in it

This quote/stat is simply astounding to me:

After the Fighting Irish shot 55% in the first half from the field, Virginia Tech (9-2, 3-1) ramped up the defense and allowed only two Notre Dame (3-7, 0-4 ACC) field goals. The Irish did score 21 second half points, but 16 of those came from the free throw line.

I heard the guys mention it last night and I could hardly believe what I was hearing... 2 second half FGs.

Is coronavirus over yet?

This team just plays better when Cone and Cattoor are in for Radford and Bede. Having those two shooters along with Alleyne spreads the defense out and opens things up for Aluma and Mutts inside. I don't mind keeping them coming off of the bench, but I think MY should bring them in sooner. That starting 5 struggles to score with how compact the other team's defense can get. They can pack the paint and dare us to shoot low-percentage 3s.

Yes, this team plays better with Cone and Cattoor, and they jump up efficiency from Bede and Alleyne (not Radford). Using advanced metrics, the most efficient players on the team are Aluma, Cone, Cattoor, and Radford, in that order. That combines their offensive and defensive statistics. Alleyne and Bede are towards the bottom. Alleyne doesn't shoot well from the field. His defense is average. Radford isn't the most talented player, but his hustle and ability to get the tough points makes him a valuable guy who needs to be on the court a lot. Bede is limited in what he can do. Bede's primary value is distributing the ball without losing it. Last year, he was exceptional at that, with an ASS/TO ratio of almost 3.5. This year, he's a little off that, with a ratio slightly below 2.0.

At 33 assists and 18 turnovers, his ratio is 1.83. Cattoor at 12 and 7 is 1.71. Cone at 8 and 3 is 2.66. No reason not to play Cone or Cattoor over Bede for offense. But Bede is better on defense.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

Bede is not a scoring threat. Other teams know that. You can see them give him outside shots. This allows them to pack more on the other guys. Bede is a good defensive player, but he's not a lock-down type of guy. In last night's game, he was soft on the perimeter in the first half when ND was lighting us up. He doesn't box out well. There were a couple of plays last night when Bede's man worked himself underneath. I noticed at least 2 missed shots, where Bede's man slipped through him to grab the offensive rebound and get easy points. Bede is much more effective when his man has the ball. I think he's more alert. He seems to lose focus in other situations. Still, he is a solid defender who has come up with some big plays on that side.

Cattoor is really raising his game. He's much more rounded than last year, and his defense is very good. He's a tough kid who hustles like Radford. Maybe Radford rubbed off on him? Cone is limited on defense by his height. It's easy for guys to shoot over him, even when he is right on them. Cone's instant offense is a game changer, though. His ability to put up quick points off the bench reminds of Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson from the Piston's Bad Boy era.

With what Bede is asked to do on offense, his ASS/TO ratio is important for him, and not so much for Cone or Cattoor. They are being asked to do different things. Bede is good on defense, but Cattoor is not far behind. Cattoor continues to improve. I like what he brings on both sides of the court. For a kid who's top high school offer was Central Florida, he's playing well beyond expectations. He's proved himself to be a legitimate ACC caliber player.

So far, I like Young as our coach. Both Cone and Cattoor are getting extended minutes at the expense of Alleyne and Bede. Young knows what he's doing.

Not sure which number I like more...2 baskets in a half 🤔 or 10.5% shooting. If only it had made it to the Lucky Charms box. Maybe replace the Net Weight

Any idea why the lucky charms post was deleted? Maybe trademark issues even though I would think it falls under fair use?

No, glad I saved the photo of it. Now I just have to remember to put it up elsewhere.

Could have been trademark, could have been the Domers were butthurt and made a few calls.

Where is Bamisile? I thought there was discussion of him being a lottery pick and he's not even playing much. He's also very good at creating his own shot.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

He is a significant liability on the defensive end so far, which likely puts him down Coach Youngs depth chart.

Hopefully, he is smart enough to see Cattoor and Radford working hard on their games and getting minutes and see how that could apply to him.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

I think Bamisile has the best chance of anyone on this team to make it to the NBA, but I think the ceiling for this group is late first round.

Outside it's night time, but inside it's LeDay

Aluma is a big dog on inside, hopefully cone is stepping up to take over the outside / dribble drive game to open up the floor. Team is young, and really dont have that many minutes working together. Young will find a rotation that works best