As Mike Young stood with ACC Network sideline reporter Katie George just before the start of the second half, he stared past the cameras with a dispirited look on his face.
The first-year Virginia Tech coach knew there would be growing pains with this year's team — we all did after the departure of Buzz Williams left the Hokies returning the least amount of points, rebounds, shooting and minutes of any team in the Atlantic Coast Conference — but performances like Tuesday's highlight this team's deficiencies.
Tech's two-game road trip turned into a complete dud with a 71-61 road loss to Miami that came after a frustrating and disheartening loss to Boston College on Saturday.
Before Tuesday's win, the Hurricanes had lost four in a row and were coming off a 94-71 shellacking at the hands of North Carolina. The Hurricanes were also without standout guard Chris Lykes, who averages a team-high 15.7 points per game — good enough for eighth in the ACC.
"They just drove us and came off dribble handoffs hot and we were to it and flying," said Young, who remained winless (0-2) against Miami for his career. "Our connectivity was poor, certainly, even without Lykes, they have some kids that can really score the ball. It was just really disappointing and they clearly outplayed us the first [20 minutes]."
Before Tuesday's game, the Hurricanes were 10-0 in games in which they led at the half this season and 0-for-9 when trailing. Coincidentally enough, it was a 24-2 first-half run that gave Miami a 41-19 lead that was too much for the Hokies to overcome.
Despite a major size advantage, Miami only outrebounded Tech 36-31. What they did do, however, was score inside as the Hurricanes held a 36-24 advantage in the paint.
For Young and the Hokies, it was a discouraging sight after the team had taken significant strides defensively in recent weeks. Even in the losses to Boston College and Syracuse, it wasn't defensive miscues that ultimately cost them the game.
"Everybody we play is going to have a height advantage. It's nothing we haven't seen," Young said. "I just thought they were a lot quicker than we were. You give up 44 points [in the first half]. My team's been pretty darn good throughout defensively and you give up 44 points. That's not us."
There were positives from the performance, however, as Tech outscored Miami by nine in the second half and cut the deficit to four with just over one minute to go on a bucket from Landers Nolley. It was his 19th game scoring in double figures this season.
Tyrece Radford also had another big game with a career-high 24 points, which was his first time leading the Hokies in scoring this season. He also added eight rebounds and three steals. Wabissa Bede finished with a team-high eight assists in the loss for Tech.
"I just think we should have played the first half like we finished the second half," Radford said. 'If we would have done that, the game would have been a lot different. But with us not doing that, it kicked us in the butt at the end."
But the Hokies were uncharacteristically sloppy with the basketball again, especially at pivotal moments, and it came after a disappointing showing against Boston College on Saturday. Tech finished with game with 12 turnovers — slightly above its 9.7 average coming into the contest — including a couple of key ones in the final minute.
"Well, it couldn't have been much worse than it was on Saturday, with us being like seven assists to 14 turnovers," Young said. "We led the country in assist-turnover ratio for an extended time. I'm not sure what we were tonight, but I know that we weren't good enough. It looks like we were 13 [assists] and 12 [turnovers]. Those aren't our numbers. Our numbers are typically seven turnovers or somewhere around there. So, we were a little better [with ball movement], but we are not quite right there."
Tech (14-7, 5-5 ACC) entered Tuesday ranked No. 50 in the latest NCAA Men's Basketball NET Rankings. With this loss, however, the Hokies almost surely find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to their NCAA Tournament hopes.
And things won't get any easier from here with a ticked-off Florida State (18th KenPom after a 61-56 loss to U.Va on Tuesday) coming to Blacksburg on Saturday evening.
As Young stated, the Hokies are used to being undersized against just about every opponent they face this season. That'll certainly be the case against the Seminoles.
Most fans would say that having Tech — a team that consistently relies on six freshmen in its rotation — sitting at 5-5 at this point after the rebuild Young had to do in the offseason is a good thing. But expectations for this team increased, fair or not, after early wins over Clemson and Michigan State and the three-game ACC winning streak following a lopsided loss in Charlottesville to the Cavaliers. Lately though, it's a reminder of the team's youth and inexperience. And the growing pains associated with that.
Tech nearly overcame that "youth" on Tuesday with Radford leading the charge. Nolley had another solid night, Naheim Alleyne had a solid seven points and Hunter Cantoor hit a pair of 3s. Jalen Cone, meanwhile, saw just 15 minutes and finished 0-for-2.
"He's an amazing person and really an aggressive kid offensively and defensively," Young said of Radford. "I've never been opposed to playing kids with two fouls in the first half, but I am with him a little bit because he is so aggressive. Was able to get him at the half with just the two [fouls]. He's a difference maker because of his energy and his effort plays and he's doing it rather consistently. He was a special player out there."
Unfortunately, it was the veterans for the Hokies that came up short against the Hurricanes. Bede finished with just one point on an 0-for-5 shooting performance, and turned it over 6 times. Isaiah Wilkins was 1-for-8 for three points and P.J. Horne had a pair of 3s, but was 0-for-4 inside the arc.
Tech approaches a crossroads after back-to-back losses and dropping three of their last four,. Whether it's the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, any type of postseason play for a team with so many first-year players is beneficial. In order to get there though and wipe the demoralized look off the faces of Young and Hokies fans all over, this team will have to grow up tremendously over the final weeks of the season.
"We are in a bit of a rut on both ends of the floor, to be honest," Young said. "But we'll get back home and figure it out."
We're about to find out if they can.