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Hokie Hardwood: Georgia Tech

By Grant Mitchell | February 23
Radford georgia tech
Photo: Matt Gentry

The #16 Virginia Tech Hokies (14-5, 8-4) were defeated by the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (12-8, 8-6) in Blacksburg, Virginia Tuesday evening, 53-69.

Tyrece Radford’s return from suspension produced a number of bright spots, specifically near the end of the game, but was not enough to stop the visiting team from stealing a victory.

A sloppy first half coupled with an inability to secure defensive stops in the late second half doomed the Hokies’ chances of winning their first game in seventeen days.

Keve Aluma continued his recent streak of recording career highs, this time by snagging 14 rebounds, but was unable to lift his squad to victory. Aluma also recorded 12 points and five assists.

It was expected that the maroon and orange would struggle in their return game following over two weeks off, though the timing of the loss is not the best. The Hokies will have to prove themselves as a worthy top 25 outfit in the three games that they have left on their schedule.

The Plot

This game was not the cleanest for the home team.

VT matched their season average with 11 turnovers in the first half alone, giving the visitors a plethora of extra chances.

The main reason for the offensive struggles was the 1-3-1 zone of the Jackets. The perimeter defenders hounded VT shooters on the wing and collapsed on the point of attack, walling off the lane to any dribble penetration attempts. This congestion frustrated the Hokie offense as they were forced to swing the ball around the edges, often unable to create space for a man inside the middle of the zone.

Nahiem Alleyne bore the early load of scoring by notching nine first half points but also recorded four turnovers, limiting his overall impact on the proceedings.

Georgia Tech only managed to shoot 10-24 from the field in the first half, mostly due to stellar individual efforts defensively by Tyrece Radford and Wabissa Bede, though their continuous pressure on the Hokie ball handlers and passing lanes led to a tie ballgame at the intermission, 24-24.

Although the Hokies would go on to lose the second half by sixteen points, they seemed to remember some of their identity.

After an early 12-0 run helped the Jackets soar ahead on the scoreboard, the home side responded with an 8-0 streak of their own. Transition points from Radford and paint presence from the Keve Aluma/Justyn Mutts duo allowed the offense to flow more freely as shots began to fall.

Unfortunately for the Hokies, their offensive revival would go unmatched defensively as guards Michael Devoe and Jose Alvarado took turns spotting up from outside and driving the lane while forward Moses Wright could not miss in the paint, scoring 26 points on 9-11 shooting.

After it became clear that a comeback was unlikely, the Hokies’ body language began to slump. Hands were thrown in the air, shoulders rounded forward and heads fell: except for Tyrece Radford. The sophomore guard began attacking with even more intent, clapping for his teammates and applying pressure to the Yellow Jacket zone.

Although anecdotal in a sense, this is a tremendously important observation. With the return of Radford comes the highest amount of intensity and toughness, qualities that have defined the maroon and orange this season. It will be important to monitor Radford’s impact on the team’s mindset moving forward.

The Players

Keve Aluma did not have a great shooting percentage (33%) but did score 12 points, snatch 14 rebounds (seven offensive) and dish five assists, giving him solid numbers across the board.

The junior transfer felt that he got “dominated” during the game, promising to be at his best the next time he is on the court: that is a scary prospect for the Wake Forest defense.

Tyrece Radford marked his return to NCAA Basketball with 11 points, three rebounds and two assists. The star sophomore appeared timid in the first half, as if he did not want to disrupt the flow that had developed in his absence. This changed in the closing period.

Radford aggressively pursued his shot including a nice mid-range jumper, a move that only made rare appearances in his usual repertoire. If Radford used his time off to add a consistent mid-range game to his arsenal, he will be even tougher to guard.

Nahiem Alleyne was the third of three Hokies in double figures Tuesday, adding 12 points but taking 12 shots to do so.

Alleyne has not shot the ball well this season, averaging 38.6% on field goals, but continues to look for his shot with confidence. Alleyne is capable of carrying a team’s offense on his day but will need to improve his efficiency in the postseason.

The Pretenses

Tuesday’s action in Cassell was the Hokies’ first time out in seventeen games as four straight COVID-related postponements kept Blacksburg’s finest on the sidelines of Atlantic Coast Conference action.

Coach Young’s group moved up to sixteenth in the national rankings on Monday despite the extended break and were just off of the conference lead, trailing #15 UVA by a half game and #11 Florida State by one.

The forward partnership of Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts has jumped to life in recent contests with the two big men combining to average 36.5 points, 18 rebounds and 6.5 assists in their past four games.

On the other side of the action, Georgia Tech entered southwest Virginia with a 5-5 record in their last 10 games despite beating two ranked opponents in Florida State and Clemson during that stretch.

The Yellow Jackets have shown an ability to live up to the occasion and are capable of scoring with some of the best teams in the nation, headlined by guard Jose Alvarado and forward Moses Wright’s averages of over 16 points per game.

The Postgame

“I can’t wait to get back over here on Thursday… and begin our preparations for Wake Forest. We’ll be much better Saturday, I guarantee that.”

— Mike Young, Head Coach

The popcorn man had been on record saying his team just needed to play to shake off the rust and promised a better performance next time out now that their layoff was over.

“You can learn so much more from a loss than you can a win… we can learn so much and grow.”

— Justyn Mutts, forward

The ever-positive junior told reporters that he will make it a priority to dissect Tuesday’s events and use the loss to improve.

“We’re not cutting ourselves any slack. They came out and competed and wanted it more than us.”

— Keve Aluma, forward

The Hokies’ star man made his frustration with his production clear, citing a lack of aggression as a source of personal failure.

The Performance

Although unfavorable, a loss against a quality Georgia Tech after a seventeen-day layover was definitely in the cards.

The Yellow Jackets reluctance to disappear combined with the Hokies’ renewed struggles against zone defense saw the game get out of hand shortly after the ten-minute mark in the second half.

The awakening of the Tech offense in the in the latter stages of the game will encourage Mike Young as he prepares his group to take on a staunch Wake Forest team that contested the Hokies well in a 64-60 VT victory back in January.

Despite the loss, a couple of truths remains clear: Boots is back, and the Hokies are 4-0 against top 25 teams. That is a winning recipe.