Hokie Hardwood: Notre Dame
The #20 Virginia Tech Hokies (12-3, 6-2) defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-9, 2-6) in South Bend, Indiana Wednesday evening, 62-51.
This outcome was a resounding answer to the question as to how the Hokies would perform in their first contest without guard Tyrece Radford, who was suspended indefinitely earlier in the week.
The Hokies clamped down on the Irish defensively, allowing the fewest points to an opponent that they had the entire season.
The Hokie frontline of Keve Aluma, Justyn Mutts and Nahiem Alleyne accounted for 32 total rebounds and six blocks, bringing much needed intensity in the absence of Radford.
Well, the elephant in the room has disappeared: the Hokies proved that they are still a top-20 team with enough depth to fill in when needed.
Head Coach Mike Young made the decision to insert Jalen Cone into the starting lineup, giving Nahiem Alleyne additional responsibility to be a versatile defender and crash the glass.
Amongst the adjustments to the rotation, one pattern remained in Hunter Cattoor’s presence off the bench.
The sophomore guard scored six of the Hokies’ first twelve points after a slow start team wise, eventually knocking down four of five threes in the opening period.
Nahiem Alleyne in particular seemed to welcome the challenge of filling in Radford’s presence on the boards, securing a season-high six rebounds in just the first half. Alleyne played with a renewed fire on both ends of the court, starting life in his new role superbly.
Hunter Cattoor and Wabissa Bede hounded the Irish ball handlers, poking three and two steals loose, respectively.
Notre Dame attempted to mix zone and man defense throughout both halves, though superb instincts and decision making from Justyn Mutts in the middle circumvented their efforts.
Although ND guard Prentiss Hubb buried 17 first half points, the Hokies’ defense only allowed the rest of the Irish to score five total.
Freshmen David N’Guessan, Darius Maddox and Joe Bamisile all made relatively brief appearances in the first half as coach Young searched to find a replacement for Radford in his rotation.
The second half was more of the same staunch team defending while Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts took on the challenge of playing above the rim.
Aluma especially seemed to have a fire in his eyes, chasing down a Notre Dame player after seeming to be out of the play, ultimately leading to a Mutts dunk.
The forward pair spent the entire second half swatting shots and suffocating the painted area as Notre Dame continued to struggle for points, finishing with an abysmal 35.7% conversion rate on field goals.
The Hokies underperformed from three yet again, bringing their team average down to 33.8% this season. The absence of Radford left the Hokies with just two options: pull the outside jumper or dump it inside.
On the bright side, the maroon and orange were efficient around the rim. This is a trend that must continue should they hope to see the success they had envisioned just a week ago.
Despite similar box scores, Justyn Mutts was the clear leader through large stretches of the game. The junior transfer from Delaware totaled 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
Mutts’ double-double was his first as a Hokie but also a stark contrast to where he was at the start of the season. Once known for intermingling effective play with careless mistakes, Mutts led the team in minutes played Wednesday, showing Mike Young’s trust in him.
Nahiem Alleyne was another key figure in the victory, racking up a team-high 15 points (11 in the second half), nine rebounds and five assists, another team-high.
The sophomore guard followed up a high-scoring performance against Syracuse by playing efficient basketball, shooting 50% from the field and finding his shot with relative ease.
Keve Aluma managed to kick his habit of poor offensive output, pitching in 14 points, 12 rebounds (three offensive) and three blocks.
The Wofford transfer was much more confident in himself, by his own admission, getting back to his usual ways of fighting off defenders in the paint and scoring at different angles.
Hokie nation was shocked by the Monday announcement of Tyrece Radford’s suspension less than a week before a weekend matchup with #8 UVA.
Radford was a contributor in every aspect of the game and provided intangibles that are not easy to find.
VT’s next highest scorers, Jalen Cone and Nahiem Alleyne, are in line to receive more shot opportunities as a result of Radford’s absence.
Although these two do not have the slashing ability of their teammate, they are both well-renowned for their marksmanship. An additional shooter in the starting lineup will open up the lane for Aluma and Mutts to operate, thus shifting the identity of the Hokies. How they adapt remains to be seen.
Notre Dame was dealt a tough blow last time out when starting guard Cormac Ryan was injured, leaving an already thin team with even fewer options.
The Irish have struggled to close out games all season, leaving a number of opportunities on the table and effectively ruining their own chances of a deep run in the postseason.
“You got to earn those [minutes]… Bamisile came back in the second half and played really well.”
The Hokies’ main man told the media that he does not hand out playing time without being proven that the players are deserving, and was proud of Joe Bamisile in particular for playing well in the second half.
“We are going to make a huge run this year.”
Fresh off of his first double-double in Hokie colors, Justyn Mutts promised postseason success to the VT fans back home.
“I’m definitely excited. I’ve been a part of other rivalries… It’ll be a fun one.”
The Hokies’ leading scorer this season spoke on his attitude approaching his first rivalry face-off against #8 UVA this weekend, anxiously awaiting the opportunity.
The Hokies played a great defensive game.
They forced the Irish into committing more turnovers than them, adapted to a new lineup and dominated the glass.
Although the ever-evasive three-point shot continues to be an area of concern, the fundamentals seem to be covered.
Mike Young’s squad have become a bit up-and-down as of late, but a solid first outing in the post-Radford era must have built some confidence for the Hokies before their home stand this Saturday.
The spirit of Virginia Tech's group remains alive and well.
Polling the People
Instagram: “Great performance! We gotta keep it up against Virginia!” -@geddyisjolly
Twitter: “Alleyne is special” -@Zach_P_56