Hokie Hardwood: Longwood
The #24 Virginia Tech Hokies (7-1) defeated the Longwood Lancers (1-7) in Blacksburg Monday night, 84-58. This win tallied the Hokies third win in six days and reaffirmed their reintroduction into the AP Top 25.
Similar to the Coppin State game, the final score does not tell the whole story of the evening’s events. The Lancers fought through a poor shooting start and a copious number of turnovers to keep the ballgame at just a four-point differential entering halftime.
From there, the Hokies showed their dominance: Head Coach Mike Young’s outfit managed to win the second half 50-28, largely due to the all-around performances from mostly everybody that touched the floor from his side.
This was the final game before the players were scheduled to enjoy a brief Christmas hiatus with the 4-2 Miami Hurricanes awaiting a December 29th date back in southern Virginia.
The Hokies, dressed in their home whites, rolled out their usual starting five of Bede, Alleyne, Radford, Mutts and Aluma, opting for consistency over experiments to the lineup ahead of the meat of conference play.
The Hokies seemed the better team for a majority of the first half, though they failed to knock down open shots. After a 3-6 start from deep, the well ran dry as the Redenbacher boys went on to miss their next 10 three-point attempts. This combined with an offensive lull during a stretch in which Longwood deployed a 1-2-2 zone defense allowed the visiting Lancers to remain relevant, with the first half ending 34-30 in favor of the Hokies.
One player not effected by his team’s performance in the opening period was Jalen Cone: the sophomore guard knocked in three triples on seven attempts and rose up with conviction every time his number was called.
Hunter Cattoor continued to run point for the second unit in Cartier Diarra’s absence and seemed more comfortable at the position having gained experience over the previous two games. Cattoor was as aggressive moving downhill as he has been pulling up from range, adding a wrinkle that opposing defenses will have to account for.
The second half was a resounding reminder of what the Hokies can be when they are clicking as a unit. The VT boys outscored the visiting Lancers to the tune of 22 points by nailing shot opportunities, crashing the offensive glass and hustling for multiple defensive sequences.
The Hokies talent and execution proved too much for Longwood, who eventually fell in the Hokies’ sixth victory of non-conference play.
Jalen Cone was the front man for his squad Monday, converting six three-point shots on fifteen attempts (40%) and constantly drawing the Lancer defense out to the perimeter, creating open lanes for his teammates to navigate inside. Cone’s growth in confidence since returning to the lineup after a foot injury sidelined him for the first three games has been paramount to his team’s success, as they have a certified sniper willing to shoot any time he receives the ball in a little bit of space.
Keve Aluma stuffed the stat sheet despite a slow start, finishing with 14 points, four rebounds, three blocks and two steals. The star forward managed to score ten in the second period and was in much more control of the action on both ends of the court, symbolic of the Hokies’ discrepancy in output between halves.
Wabissa Bede showed off his abilities as a passer against the Lancers, notching eight assists while committing zero turnovers. The fifth-year guard also managed to tack on five points and two steals to his box score, commanding both ends of the floor with passion and confidence.
Freshman Joe Bamisile sank four shots and a free throw, including a highlight-worthy layup, in just five minutes of game time, finishing with 11 points and two rebounds in his cameo appearance.
Bamisile’s athleticism and creativity have impressed during the last two outings, drawing praise from his commander in chief.
“Joe Bamisile… has had a couple of good days. I have a greater level of trust in him.”
A special mention should be given to Tyrece Radford for doing the dirty work, securing four offensive rebounds and contributing nine points to his team’s effort. The 6’2 guard finished with eight total rebounds and continues to defy the odds on the glass.
Monday’s matchup against Longwood coincided with the Hokies’ return in the AP Top 25 at the #24 position. Coach Young’s unit earned their spot following victories over then #24 Clemson and Coppin State last week, reestablishing themselves as a threatening opponent following their debacle against unranked Penn State two weeks ago.
Nahiem Alleyne and Jalen Cone led a resurgence in deep ball shooting last time out, accounting for 10 of the Hokies’ 20 successful perimeter shots en route to a season high in threes made against Coppin State last Saturday. This kind of marksmanship was a reminder of the maroon and orange’s capabilities from three-point land after they had shot just 24.7% in four games prior.
Virginia Tech has managed to win in a multitude of ways this year and have received contributions from everyone on the active roster, depending on what the situation calls for. This type of flexibility and adaptability are just one of the many reasons that Blacksburg’s own have found their way back into the national rankings.
On the other hand, the Longwood Lancers have not had the best of the seasons: they entered Monday’s ballgame having turned in losing efforts in six of seven games, including four losses on the road. The Lancers do not have anyone in their starting five shooting over 40% from three, cough up 15.8 turnovers per game and only have one player averaging over five rebounds despite having an incredibly tall roster. These statistics will not please third-year Head Coach Griff Aldrich who had enjoyed very successful campaigns during his first two years at the helm.
“I have a physical team… We have the makings of a very good defensive team.”
Mike Young alluded to consistency in his defense being key moving into conference play.
“Eight assists to zero turnovers. [Wabissa Bede] sees things before they happen.”
Keve Aluma attributed his success to his point guard’s ability to read the game and deliver opportunities to him and his teammates.
“[Speaking of things to improve upon] Guarding the ball, continue to take care of the ball… on the offensive end we’ll be just fine”
The Hokies' long range-range ace doubled down on his coach’s assessment of the importance of defense, stating that their offensive talent will shine through regardless.
The Hokies bounced back from an unfortunate first half to kill off any chance of an upset, just as elite teams do. They were dynamic in how they scored, defended well and capitalized on their opponent’s mistakes.
Overall, the past three games have been exactly what Virginia Tech needed: they earned their second victory of the season over a ranked opponent, regained their outside touch and proved to themselves that they are leagues above smaller teams.
Coach Young’s rotation appears to be shooting with increased confidence every time they take the court and look to be an imposition on the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference ladder after being projected to finish eleventh.
The Hokies will hope to keep poppin’ when the Hurricanes sweep into town next Tuesday.