Virginia Tech couldn't buy a bucket from behind the arc. The No. 20 Hokies entered Monday night averaging 41.8% from three, but against No. 3 Virginia, they shot 10.7%. That final score of 64-58, had the Hokies shot even 20% (still 20+ percentage points below their season average), it might have swung in their favor. Instead, Tech dropped to 20-6 (9-5) on the season.
Virginia shot a blistering 10 for 14 from deep in the first half back in January (13 for 24 overall). Meanwhile, as the 'Hoos were busy shooting the lights out of John Paul Jones Arena, the Hokies struggled and shot 7 for 21 from deep. Surely, it couldn't get any worse in the rematch.
Narrator: It got worse.
Virginia finished 11 for 27. Virginia Tech hit the showers with a 3 for 28 showing.
"All credit to Virginia," said Buzz Williams. "Incredibly well coached. Early entry Hall of Fame coach. Very disciplined in how they play on both ends of the floor. The numbers that matter, their defense is third in the country and their offense is fifth. So, you're for sure stressed out regardless of whether you have possession of the ball or not. And so, for sure, all credit to them defensively."
The kudos for the Hoos was repeated by the Hokies players, including Ahmed Hill, one individual that's struggled more of late than any other Hokie.
"They did a great job of guarding our sets," explained Hill. "Guarding the three. They knew who our shooters were. Just all credit to them."
Against Virginia, Hill extended his shooting slump. He made only 1 of 9 attempts from the bonus-sphere. Since the NC State game (first contest without Justin Robinson), Hill has shot a dismal 6 for 40 beyond the arc. For anybody who doesn't want to get frustrated calculating the percentage, it's 15%. His season average was at 36.3% coming into the game.
Against the Cavaliers, and their acclaimed packline defense, the Hokies had plenty of open looks. And almost every single one of those shots clanged off the iron. Virginia plays great defense, there's no denying it. But on Monday night, the Cavaliers gave up an uncharacteristic amount of wide open attempts. Buzzketball failed to capitalize, and in a big way.
"I think in the first half they missed wide open shots," said Tony Bennett. "They are hard to guard, they run good actions, slips, they can shoot it. We didn't do a good job. We were very poor with our underneath defense. We gave up so many easy baskets, then they just missed threes."
For a more positive takeaway, take a look at Kerry Blackshear Jr. and his stat line. The junior put up 21 points on 10 for 14 shooting, while securing his 1,000th career point in maroon and orange. He also grabbed 13 boards en route to a double-double.
"My teammates are finding me open looks," said Blackshear. "They're getting open looks themselves so I think that takes the pressure off of me. I think this new team that we have is starting to gel in the life without Five. Hopefully he'll be back soon too and he'll get right back into it."
Virginia Tech will now take advantage of a respite after a three-games-in-five-days stretch. Their next contest isn't for four days, when the Hokies travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame (13-12, 3-9). Williams laughed while remarking "that's good" when the break between games was pointed out to him.
"I have the utmost respect for how our guys have handled this month," explained Williams. "How hard they're trying. How much they care for one another. The symmetry of our staff is as good as I've ever seen. And the camaraderie of our team is as good as I've ever seen. But I think the chemistry between the players and the staff and all of us trying to pull in the same direction considering all the things that have transpired, it's been really healthy for me to make sure that I'm aware of the lessons that are presented. When you play, where you play, the timing of the games. I'm not sure, partly because I'm not very smart, it's taken me five years to get to that point. I've learned a lot. I'm lucky to have a front row seat with our staff and our players. Their resilience has been, in my opinion, off the charts."
Three Thoughts for the Road
Hey look, it's more Blackshear praise! Blackshear is providing some of the best basketball a big man has given a Hokies squad in a long time. He's suddenly become very comfortable handling the ball both in the post and at the top of the key. Drawing his matchup out that far from the hoop can create serious spacing issues for the opponent.
"I think statistically it speaks to how important he is," noted Williams. "We are still trying to figure out a set where he can dribble and then pass to himself and then make a decision from there. I just mentioned on the radio that one thing that I learned from Blackshear is not how good he is but the response of the other six kids of being accepting of how important he is to be the focal point whether that's to score or to make a decision. He makes the game easier for our other guys."
He was yet again the best player on the court for the Hokies, and it really wasn't close. Until an opponent figures out a way to stop it, it's obvious the offense needs to run through him until Robinson is healed up.
There was a very clear turning point in this game. DeAndre Hunter picked up his second foul with over 12 minutes remaining in the first half. Hunter is currently a projected first round pick, and he played a smidge over six minutes in the first frame. Instead of taking advantage and building a lead, the Hokies actually managed to trail heading into the locker room. Hunter didn't get called for another foul the rest of the game and played the entire second half. He paced the Hoos' second-half production in points (8) and rebounds (4). The Hokies' inability to take advantage of his absence dug them a deep hole.
Some tournament team is going to be very upset Virginia Tech is in their pod. While it would be thrilling for the Hokies to pick up a couple upset wins in their final four games, it's more realistic to expect Tech to drop their contests against ranked opponents. And with those losses, a drop down the seed lines would follow. Unfortunately, the Hokies don't have an impressive enough resume (currently a 3-6 Q1 record) to advocate for a 4 or 5 seed.
If everything comes together and Robinson can recover in time, the Hokies might be the most dangerous 6 or 7 seed in the entire tournament field. Imagine a 2-seeded Kentucky getting paired up with a 7-seeded Virginia Tech. Especially after the Wildcats cancelled their game with the Hokies this season. That would be fun.