Slow Start Haunts Hokies In Loss To FSU

Virginia Tech dropped its third ACC game in a row. No. 5 Florida State left Cassell with a decisive 74-63 win.

[Mark Umansky]

It's been a common question for Mike Young, but one he's grown a bit tired of.

When asked about the recent struggles Virginia Tech has faced — the Hokies have lost three in a row and four of five after a 74-63 loss to Florida State on Saturday in Cassell Coliseum — the first-year Tech coach said that he didn't want to hear any justification.

"I'm not one to make excuses," said Young, who plays six freshmen significant minutes. "That's a ready-made excuse. You have to find ways to win. We are in a bit of a hole, but as I told them after the game, we control everything. It's too early to look at that stuff. Play better basketball. Find ways to win and come back tomorrow and fight."

The recent struggles for the Hokies have come in unique fashion. In losses to Syracuse and Boston College, it was late-game meltdowns that ultimately cost them the game.

In a lackluster effort against Miami on Tuesday and again against FSU — Tech began the game 2-of-13 from the field — it was a slow start that put the Hokies in a tough spot.

"We'll go back and look at it," Young said. "We've had better starts defensively. It's just so new. This style is new to so many of those young kids. I thought when they locked into it, they did as good of a job as anybody I've seen Florida State play in the last six weeks in terms of movement and putting the ball in the right spots. We couldn't get a timely shot down. You need to get a stop there. We had other opportunities to cut into it and we couldn't get that one big shot to go down and really get some wind under our sails."

Tech led the contest for a grand total of 2:36 — that came on a 4-3 advantage after back-to-back buckets from Tyrece Radford to start the game — and never could quite get enough momentum to make it a game. Even when Nahiem Alleyne nearly blew the roof off of Cassell Coliseum with a vicious left-handed slam that cut the deficit to 60-53 with 6:23 remaining, Florida State responded with a two-handed slam from Anthony Polite and a free throw on the ensuing possession to quickly make it a 10-point game.

The Seminoles shot 45 percent from deep and connected on a season-high 10 threes. In FSU's other three losses this season, the opposing team doubled their free-throw total. On Saturday, the Hokies finished just 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.

"I feel like we could have defended it better," said Tech guard Tyrece Radford, who had another big game. "The ones that we did contest, they went in. They just caught fire."

The sharpest FSU player was 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Devin Vassell, who exploded for 17 first-half points on a perfect 6-for-6 performance from the field. For the game, he finished with 27 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 7-of-7 from three-point range.

"You have to get to him," Young said. "You have to close to his body. When a dynamic player like that is allowed to get comfortable and sees that first one go down, that spells trouble. We've got to guard him. Wabissa was the best matchup for him. We tried a couple of different matchups, but he got rolling. We allowed him to get comfortable and you can't do that with really good ones. He's a really good one. Holy smokes."

The Hokies, meanwhile, struggled on the offensive end once again. Tech finished just 7-of-30 from deep in a game it desperately needed to catch fire from three-point range. Young said a big reason for that was the length of the Seminoles, who feature two seven-footers in Dominik Olejniczak (four points, two rebounds and two blocks) and Balsa Koprivica (two points) and seven players that are 6-foot-8 or taller.

"That is a luxury," Young said of the Seminoles' size and versatility. "The length they play with is pretty remarkable. Those two kids — both of them — and [RaiQuan] Gray can do that. It makes it hard. I've seen a number of people have hard times with it. I thought we got the ball to some places we wanted to get the ball to. It just wasn't enough, though."

Young admitted that relying so heavily on the deep ball isn't necessarily a strategy he enjoys using so often, but instead is one that is necessary this season.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again," he said. "It's not a knock on my team. We are who we are. I would love to throw the ball into a 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10 kid and have him turn and score. I can't. Do I want to live my life shooting that thing 30 times from three? I don't, but we're locked into that. That's part of where we are as a program. We don't have that facet and that hurts. When you have one you can sling the thing into and they throw it back out and force a long close, that is helpful. My team continues to do everything and give us everything in an attempt to win each time out and I admire them for that."

While Radford was efficient offensively — 8-of-10 shooting for 18 points, six rebounds and a steal — Landers Nolley and Wabissa Bede both struggled a bit.

Nolley finished just 5-of-16 shooting for 14 points while committing three turnovers. Bede was 2-of-6 for four points and had a plus-minus of -11. Jalen Cone, who has performed well in ACC play, finished with just three points in 12:22 off the bench.

"I think we lean on Wabissa Bede just because he's been here for three years," guard Hunter Cattoor said. "He's been to two NCAA tournaments. He knows what it takes to get there. He's a tough guy. I look up to him and the whole team does. We look to him as our leader. But also since we're such a young group, we do it together. We're learning together and growing together. The biggest thing for us is just figuring things out."

Both Radford and Cattoor pointed back to the Maui Invitational in late November when talking about how the team would handle adversity. After the Hokies upset No. 2 Michigan State 71-66 on the opening night, they dropped three games in a row.

From there, Tech then reeled off wins in seven of their next eight and quickly climbed back up the ACC standings. Now sitting below .500 in league play, the Hokies (14-8, 5-6 ACC) will once again look to reverse their fortune during a pivotal four-game stretch.

"Every game is important," Radford said. "When we're coming off a loss, the players play the next game with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. We just can't sleep on anyone. We are all tired of losing. If we come in with our head strong, we'll leave with a dub."

Tech's next four games certainly appear winnable, but as Young stated: "I faced that last week and look how that turned out for us. We need to get our butts in gear."

The Hokies will face Georgia Tech (91st KenPom) Boston College (169th KenPom), Pittsburgh (78th KenPom), and Miami (115th KenPom) over the next two weeks.

"It's just a long season," Cattor said. "You can't dwell on one loss or two. You just have to move on. The most important game is the next game, so that's what we have to do."

The ACC currently has a logjam with U.Va, Syracuse, Tech, Clemson, N.C. State, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Boston College all having between four and six losses.

"I have a darn good basketball team," Young said. "I've got to do a better job with them and continue to get better. I said earlier, and I repeat, we are getting better. We're just not making enough plays to get out of here with a win. Where we are and where everyone else is in this league, we better play good basketball or we're going to get our ears pinned back. I take no comfort in that. We have to play better basketball from here out."

Young stopped a reporter as he asked if the recent struggles are to be expected because of the youth on his roster and said he didn't understand the question.

Perhaps the first-year Tech coach didn't comprehend what was being asked, but he also made it clear that he wasn't too fond of the question once it finally did come across.

Blaming inexperience isn't an option for the Hokies, he said. Young is ready to win now.

"We're not playing bad basketball," Young said. "We're just not making the plays necessary to win games. We'll continue to grind on it. We have to snap out of it here."

Comments

Well it looks like the best we can hope for is an NIT berth and or a decent ACC tourney run. Feeling a little spoiled after last season but I'm excited for the future.

Touchdown Tech!!!

Coach Young is great and this team is fun to watch. There is still a pathway to a tourney bid, but it is a slim one and I'm not holding out hope. Saying we had a pathway halfway through ACC play prior to this year starting was laughable at best, so I'm content with however this season turns out.

One complaint I do have is with a few of these games where we could have lost by less than 10pts. Buzz made a point to try and do that for NET ranking purposes, but MY doesn't seem to care at all about that. Definitely a few of our last losses we could have easily gone under the 10pt margin and especially the game tonight. We had no chance to win and got under 10 (Wilkins 3 with 17 seconds left) and could have backed off and let them run out the clock, but pressed and they got an easy dunk to put us 11 down hurting the NET rankings. Even if you don't back down there and give up that easy basket, then you should call timeout as we saw Buzz do on many occasions last year and try to get a good look to get us under a 10pt loss.

I get not giving up, but that was one thing I really liked about Buzz in that he knew what would/could help his tourney chances. It's not a huge deal, but if we make a run down the stretch and are left on the bubble then I can see these two or three recent 10pt+ losses being a factor when they could have been prevented.

A tournament bid this year would have been a fairy tale story for this team and for awhile, we all got caught up in the tale. Then reality has set in. CMY says we are who we are and this is what we are seeing, a bunch of young undersized players playing their butts off. Although I will say, #3 is becoming a liability on the offensive side of the ball and his defense has falling off too. Maybe he is pressing too much and just needs to play his style, which is not shooting 3's in critical situations, it's finding guys to shoot the 3. As far tournament bids go, just sit back and think about next year and if we get one anywhere, fantastic.

This team is fine. If we had Blackshear, IMO, we would have beaten SYR, BC and MIA. Yesterday, if we had shot our 3 pt season avg, we would have won. Heck, we had more points in the paint this "towering" FSU. With a true post player (Blackshear), we would have won. To clarify, when I say, "would", I am speaking figuratively, as it is my opinionated prediction. Lastly, we should have feverishly focused on the paint yesterday in the second half. We wanted so badly to hit 3's and they weren't falling. And, the hesitation, kick out pass when driving to the rim has got to stop. Keep going, drawl a foul, possible +1, or score. Collapse the D and then think about the kick out pass.

Oh, well.

I'd hoped for better in this game, but FSU having a decent year.

Only 12 mins for Cone? Just 27 mins last two games combined? What gives?

Well against FSU lack of size. Every FSU player would be drooling to match up and take him down low. Ten inch size advantage MINIMUM, sixteen inch for some.

The LewDew, Professional Golf Bum

"I think we lean on Wabissa Bede just because he's been here for three years," guard Hunter Cattoor said. "He's been to two NCAA tournaments. He knows what it takes to get there. He's a tough guy. I look up to him and the whole team does. We look to him as our leader. But also since we're such a young group, we do it together. We're learning together and growing together. The biggest thing for us is just figuring things out."

I really appreciate this quote from Catoor. And I really appreciate Bede. But man is he struggling at almost every level. He isn't a good shooter, he struggles from the free throw line, he has no instinct to finish once he gets to the basket, and he's been turning the ball over. Cone has really been adding quite the spark off the bench and for some reason he hasn't seen much time the last two games. I trust CMY, and I love this team (including Bede), but it seems like we need someone else handling the ball.

Is coronavirus over yet?

Cone is capable of hitting 3's when playing well, Bede can do everything except hit 3's when playing well. That includes handling pressure by opposing PG's, finding open teammates off screens & curls, playing good man-to-man and help defense. We've got 3-4 other players capable of hitting 3's when they play well, we have no other players capable of running point and defending the point.

Drunk guy in the stands perspective. We were noticeably smaller than them and they just completely took us out of our game on O. 24 for them was the best player on the court and well, they were just the better team.

That being said we had a great time and we saw Quincy and James Mitchell on the way out. Quincy turned around and smiled and pointed at me when like 'yeah Quincy!' So I got that going for me, which is nice.

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

Is it just me or does it seem like every post game headline reads "______ connected on a season high number of 3-pointers"? Why is every team so good with the 3 against us?

I'm just here to sling some legs

Because we are so short and have to help down low to offset that height advantage. At one point Young stopped helping, and they got two easy over the top baskets to their center. Pick your poison. I'd rather gamble on a three point shot than give up a sure 2 every time down the court.

That's definitely part of it, but I've also seen us play very good defense and the shooter throws up a prayer with a hand in his face and...yep, nothing but net. It almost defies the odds.

I agree, but it isn't like their 3-point defense is lacking (at least to my layman's eyes). Just seems like teams have a disproportionately high 3 point percentage against the Hokies. Maybe they hear so much about our 3-point shooting and feel like they have to demonstrate their skills - I dunno, but teams hit a lot of threes. Either way, I enjoy watching these guys play and I can't wait to see what a Mike Young coached team looks like in a few years.

I'm just here to sling some legs

Number 5 team in the country. Significant height and age advantage. Playing a bunch of freshmen. We only lose by 11. This was a set up to lose by 30 - but that didn't happen. This VT team is way above expectations. Will be fun to watch the next few years.