Standing just a few feet in front of the Virginia Tech bench as teammates bombarded him with high-fives and an occasional slap on the back, Jalen Cone flashed a smile.
The 5-foot-10 freshman guard out of Walkertown, N.C. said he knew his time would come. He just wasn't quite sure when that moment might be.
"I just waited my turn and stayed patient," Cone told ESPN studio analyst Jordan Cornette in a postgame interview. "So when coach threw me in, I knew exactly what he wanted. I always prepare for moments like these. It was just time to step up."
In a game that saw the Hokies put up one of their most impressive defensive efforts of the season, it was the shooting of Cone that stole the show Tuesday in a gritty 67-63 road win over ACC opponent Syracuse — the program's first-ever victory against the Orange at the Carrier Dome.
Cone, as a junior, announced in May that he had decided to play basketball for Tech and also declared that he planned to graduate Walkertown High School a year early and reclassify as part of the class of 2019. At the time, Cone said he chose Mike Young and the Hokies because they "needed him".
"Virginia Tech, they need Jalen Cone," he told the Winston-Salem Journal. "It's not more of a want, but they need Jalen Cone. And Coach Young and his system have Jalen Cone written all over it."
Early on this season, however, Cone hasn't always looked like a necessity for Tech. Entering Tuesday, he was averaging just 5.6 points per game and his season high was 17 points in a win over lowly Delaware State on Nov. 20.
Naturally, against the Orange and their patented 2-3 zone, it was safe to assume the Hokies would need players to find success shooting the ball from 3-point range to stretch the Syracuse zone and open up the baseline if the team was going to be successful. That's where Cone came in.
"I knew that Cone, if we were going to win, was going to have to get a couple of shots down," Young said.
With Tech trailing 38-29 with 13:47 remaining in the game, Cone did just that as he exploded for 13 points, including a pair of four-point plays during a 23-6 run. By the time the spurt was over, the Hokies led 52-44 with 7:46 remaining in the game and never trailed from there.
Cone finished with a career-high 19 points as he went 5-for-7 from 3-point range and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. He scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half.
"You could tell that everybody was more confident," Cone said. "At U.Va, after watching the film, everybody came out a little flat, so things weren't going our way. Tonight, I felt like everybody came out and was ready to play."
In that 65-39 loss to the Wahoos on Saturday, the Hokies shot just 27 percent from the field, including 4-of-25 from deep. It was their lowest point total since a 43-33 loss to East Carolina on Feb. 18, 1967.
But what Tech first-year coach Mike Young has preached to his players this season is to maintain confidence in shooting the ball. If players are open, no matter how much they're struggling, Young has made it clear that he expects them to take the shot.
So on Tuesday with Landers Nolley having one of his worst shooting nights of the season — he finished 4-of-14 for 13 points — and the Hokies still struggling from 3 as a team, Young made a minor adjustment by moving Cone, who is typically the backup point guard, off the ball alongside starter Wabissa Bede.
"I told them in the locker room that it's one of those team wins," Young told Jon Laaser and Mike Burnop on the Tech postgame radio show. "We found a lineup that we liked and were doing a nice job with Wabissa and Jalen together. That lineup went a long way in getting us out of here with a huge one."
That move also allowed Bede to get in the middle of the Syracuse zone, where he remained poised and often found open teammates for jumpers. Once the Hokies started hitting them, the Orange simply couldn't catch up.
Bede finished with a team-high eight assists. Tech, as a team, assisted on 20 of its 21 made field goals, with the only unassisted basket coming off a Landers Nolley fastbreak.
"Cone comes in and bangs one and then it's like the skies open and we're throwing them in left and right," Young said. "A lot of guys played well. Landers Nolley, I thought, was really good. I thought putting him at the top of the floor where he could see over top of it and Wabissa in the high post was something that helped us greatly."
It was Tech's first win over 'Cuse in the Carrier Dome — it was previously 0-6 all-time — and the first road victory over the Orange since 1976, when they played at Manley Field House.
"It's very big for us, coming off a loss on the road to UVA," Cone said. "I feel like we needed this moving forward, building confidence in our whole team. We have a young team full of a lot of freshmen and redshirt freshmen. So I feel like we needed this win, especially in this historical arena".
Young added: "It's a historic building, a great coach, a great basketball team. You know what I'm most impressed with? We played well in spurts, didn't play particularly in spurts. But coming back, a young bunch coming back after getting your ears pinned on Saturday and coming back on the practice floor and absorbing another scouting report. Going on the road and getting a win in this league is significant and it's needless to say that I'm proud of them."
When Cone committed to the Hokies, he was ranked the No. 9 point guard in the country by ESPN and the No. 53 overall player. He averaged 25.7 points, six assists and two steals as a junior and was named the Winston-Salem Journal's Player of the Year that season.
So as he went through the growing pains of being a freshman at the Division I level, it would have been easy to get discouraged and not prepare accordingly. But that's not who Jalen Cone is, he said.
"I knew coming in that I had to prove that to (Young) and of course with my high school accolades, he saw what I could do," Cone said. "He just trusted me and told me if I feel comfortable with a shot, take it. When the opportunity came and we played against that Syracuse zone, I just knew I had to knock down big shots."
The love from Young to his freshman point guard was reciprocated on Tuesday with his big night. Cone said that it was the type of performance he's been preparing for since he stepped foot on campus.
That's why once he hit his fifth, and final, trey of the evening to extend the Tech lead to six with just under a minute remaining, the straight-faced teen finally let out a smile as Syracuse called timeout and the celebration began in front of the Tech bench.
"I don't know that I expected him to get five of them down from long range, but that's what he does," Young said. "He is a dynamic scorer. That was his rep coming out of high school where he was a really, really good player."
"Significant win for the Hokies," he added. "We are tickled to get out of here with a great one."