Hokie Hardwood NCAA Tournament Edition: Florida
The #10 Virginia Tech Hokies were defeated by the #7 Florida Gators in the Hinkle Fieldhouse Friday afternoon, 75-70.
Foul trouble caught up with the Blacksburg boys as Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts fouled out of the game while Wabissa Bede and Nahiem Alleyne had to walk on eggshells to avoid the same fate.
Florida’s best player in Tre Mann was quiet throughout the majority of the affair but nailed a couple of clutch shots to keep his team ahead while forward Colin Castleton led the way with 19 points.
Nahiem Alleyne appeared to have restored faith to Hokie nation after he ripped a game-tying three with 1.7 seconds left on the clock, though it was not enough as the Hokies lost the extra period, 6-11.
Both teams came out of the gates rip-roaring with the opportunity to kick off the newest installment of March Madness: Florida applied 3/4 court pressure and took aggressive swipes at the ball while the Hokies used their physicality inside to command respect from the opposing Gators.
Nahiem Alleyne applied pressure early by hitting back-to-back threes, the second of which was a sweet pull-up in transition from the right side. This possession normally would have been pulled back and thrown to Wabissa Bede to orchestrate a play offensively, but not today.
Hunter Cattoor joined the action roughly five minutes after tip-off and improved upon Alleyne’s demonstration, scorching the net with three triples and leaving the heads of the Florida defenders ringing.
The Gators’ intense and risk-taking style of defense left them vulnerable to quick, crisp passes of the ball, allowing Virginia Tech to put on a clinic in moving the rock.
For as much as the Hokies seemed the better team early on, Florida managed to hang around. The Gators’ first five buckets were evenly distributed amongst the starters as every player was involved in their game plan.
Despite struggling against zone defenses for most of the year, Virginia Tech managed to post 33 first half points on 52% shooting against their adversaries’ lively 1-3-1 coverage.
The higher-seeded favorites came out with a renewed intensity to begin the second stanza, forcing turnovers and quickly closing the lead down to a one-possession differential.
Foul trouble became an issue early in the second half with Wabissa Bede and Justyn Mutts picking up three each, forcing them to sit while the once high-flying VT offense struggled to scratch.
Tyrece Radford and Nahiem Alleyne largely carried the scoring burden, both using penetration to create free throw opportunities while falling back on mid-range jump shots. Radford in particular had a couple of sweet looks throughout the game, continuing his recent stretch of efficiency around fifteen feet away from the basket.
The proceedings became eerily similar to the North Carolina debacle in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament around the ten-minute mark as the Hokies simply began to run out of gas.
Florida found easy ways to create shots for 6'11 Colin Castleton via dump offs, offensive rebounds and free throws. The Hokies did not play terrible defense, though they showed cracks that had not been there in the first half and were victimized by a whistle-happy refereeing crew.
With just a few minutes to go, the Gators had opened up a six-point lead and seemed primed to cement their victory. Enter: Nahiem Alleyne.
The sophomore guard closed the gap with four quick three throws then used his shiftiness to deposit consecutive jumpers, bringing the deficit down to just three points with 28 seconds remaining in the affair.
The Hokies went on to miss their next attempt and were forced to foul Florida’s Anthony Duruji, appearing to render Alleyne’s heroics useless.
Duruji, to Florida’s dismay, bricked both of his attempts and was forced to watch in horror as Nahiem Alleyne cashed in a drifting three in the face of a defender on the other end with just 1.7 seconds until the end of regulation.
A dumbfounded Florida went into overtime having foregone their easy win for a tougher alternative, though they gained a quick boost when Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts fouled out before the first two minutes had been completed.
Alleyne continued to give it his best, scoring fourteen straight points for his squad, but could not overcome the momentum that the Gators had garnered to that point. The Hokies eventually fell by five.
Nahiem Alleyne was brilliant, especially in the final 25 minutes, scoring a career-high 28 points and taking over down the stretch.
Alleyne’s performance was more than anybody could have asked for and cemented him as a necessity in the Virginia Tech lineup heading into next season.
Tyrece Radford had a tremendous game as well, notching 18 in the scoring column to go with four rebounds and some stellar perimeter defense.
“Boots” finished the season on a tear since returning from his suspension and looks ready to step into the role of captain, should guard Wabissa Bede depart from the program after the spring semester.
Unfortunately for Hokie fans, the productive front court duo of Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts was limited to just 13 points and 12 rebounds in total.
The zone defense of the Gators combined with the copious amount of foul calls allowed the Hokies’ best player in Aluma and their hottest player in Mutts to be taken out of the action, helping to spell their downfall.
Virginia Tech had missed five of their final eight games due to a COVID pause and had dropped two of the three that they had played.
The Hokies responded well in their reintroduction to ACC play against North Carolina but were worn down by the monstrous ball club over the final ten minutes of the bout.
The Hokies had an up-and-down season over the course of their 2020-21 campaign but would have been desperate to silence their haters with a victory over the Florida favorites.
Meanwhile, Florida finished their season on a 4-5 free fall after starting the season so positively.
Preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson was lost for the year four games into the season, though guard Tre Mann stepped up in his absence, averaging 16 points per contest.
“I am flabbergasted that we allowed 56% from the field for the game. One of those odd numbers that’s inexplicable. My team did exactly what we asked them to do.”
Mike Young expressed his approval of his team’s defense, stating that situational basketball was responsible for the second half collapse rather than a systemic issue.
“It’s everyone’s dream to hit a big shot… It was supposed to go to Tyrece: they shaded his side and Keve gave it to me and I knocked it down.”
Nahiem Alleyne shared what was going on when he hit the biggest shot of his collegiate career, a late, game-tying three in March Madness.
The 2021 NCAA Tournament seems to get better and better with each passing game. Florida over Virginia Tech in overtime. Buckle up, America.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 19, 2021
CBS Sports analyst Jon Rothstein expressed his excitement over Friday’s game, objectively relaying just how entertaining the duel was.
The Hokies were the better team early on and held a lead for a majority of the game but failed to bury their opponents. Florida hung around and eventually snatched the victory as a result.
A blank scorecard and only one assist from Wabissa Bede in 29 minutes of action did not help matters, though the usual stars in Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts were limited in their production.
The Hokies are likely to return all of their non-seniors while decisions on Cordell Pemsl and Bede remain to be made. They will also pick up incoming freshman Sean Pedulla and graduate transfer Storm Murphy, who averaged 17.8 points and 4.3 assists at Wofford this year.
Bowing out in the round of 64 is a disappointing end for Hokie fans, though the drastic success that this season was must not be forgotten. The “rebuilding” Hokies went 4-0 against the top 25, were ranked for most of the season, finished third in the ACC and saw improvements from all of their young players.
The chapter has concluded but the story has merely begun. The man of the hour, Nahiem Alleyne, said it best:
“This definitely set a fire in all of us. We’ll be back here, for sure.”