Hokie Hardwood: Radford
The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Radford Highlanders 77-62 in both teams’ first game of the 2020-21 season. This result marked a positive beginning to Tech coach Mike Young’s second year and reaffirmed the excitement of many fans, while coach Mike Jones’ Radford bunch were simply outmatched after putting up quite an early fight.
Both teams looked very sloppy to start the game: anxious ball movement superseded individual creativity, players looked unsure who was supposed to put the ball up, and the scoring was kept relatively low. The Hokies, at one point, were 6-18 from the field and 1-7 from three. Despite this, the space-focused game plan for coach Young’s retooled roster became quite evident. Justyn Mutts (2-18 from three last year), Keve Aluma (one career three-point attempt in two years) and Tyrece Radford (1-12 from distance in 2019-20) all saw early opportunities from behind the stripe. The first flash of high-level play came from senior transfer Cartier Diarra, who lit up the court by going three for three from the field in his first three minutes of action. From there, the game seemed to open up for both offenses. While only three Hokies registered points in the first seventeen minutes of action, the first half ended with Tech up 37-31 over the neighboring Highlanders, whose play had been filled with effort and emotion.
The second half was where the maroon and orange began to show their class. Keve Aluma was instrumental in this, converting three pick and pop opportunities while also tomahawk-dunking home a feed from Diarra out of the pick and roll. Nahiem Alleyne was the early focus of the second-half offense, and his aggression created opportunities for himself and his teammates, who started the second half 12-15 on field goals. Then, just when it looked as if Radford was starting to mount a comeback, VT guard Hunter Cattoor became a laser from three-point land. The deadeye shooter that swept Hokie nation off of their feet as a freshman last year went 4-4 from behind the arc in a mere matter of minutes, helping extend the lead to 16 points and quelling any suspicion that the contest would finish outside of the W column for the Hokies.
The leading scorer for Virginia Tech was Keve Aluma, who was making his Hokie debut after following his coach and transferring from Wofford to Virginia Tech two years ago. Aluma had 19 points to go with three rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Nahiem Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor joined the big man in double figures, recording 14 and 12 points respectively, while Tyrece Radford’s five assists made him the official playmaker for Blacksburg’s finest.
Ball handlers Cartier Diarra and Wabissa Bede (17 points combined) did a masterful job of controlling the offense, filtering between assertiveness and facilitation, and their experience will be an integral part in the future success of what is a mostly young and inexperienced group.
Every member of the Hokies’ starting five managed to record a steal and/or block, reflecting the commitment to pursuit and hustle on the defensive side of the ball. While the recruiting department has done a lot to improve the size and versatility of the roster, this kind of balanced defensive attack will be a necessity moving forward for what is still an undersized team.
Virginia Tech’s internal turnover across the past two years has greatly influenced their lack of desired consistency, as constant movement of players and a newly tenured head coach have forced the Hokies to learn, and grow, on borrowed time. Radford came into this season with a similar struggle in returning familiar faces, as only 50% of last year’s roster will be suiting up for the Highlanders again this year. The two teams will also be without their leading scorer from the previous year, both schools falling victim to the transfer portal, as former Hokie Landers Nolley II departed for Memphis and ex-Radford guard Carlik Jones will be wearing Louisville red this season.
Tech entered the battle hoping to improve upon a 16-16 record from last year that saw them finish 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference. This was a long way off of where Head Coach Mike Young had been hired to lead the program, having reached the NCAA Tournament five of the nine seasons prior with Wofford College, and the spotlight will be brightened this year. Meanwhile, Radford coach Mike Jones would have set his eyes on taking the next step towards NCAA prominence after leading his group to a 21-11 record in the 2019-20 campaign. This was Radford’s third consecutive twenty-win season and second straight conference championship, sweetened by former guard Carlik Jones claiming Big South Conference Player of the Year honors while coach Jones would win the Big South Coach of the Year award.
Hokies’ Coach Mike Young noted that he deeply missed the usual Cassell Guard. “Just different. Just really different.”
Virginia Tech had prepared for this new atmosphere, or lack thereof, during a walkthrough on the previous Saturday, although Young felt that today was nothing like what he had imagined it would be.
“I’m just happy to play again.”
Alleyne was sure to show his excitement for competition during his postgame presser. The sophomore guard was one of coach Young’s most reliable figures last season and seems to be in line for a heavy workload this go around.
Tech’s Jalen Cone was held out of the opener by a foot injury, although coach Young made sure to inform the media that “He’s ready to go... I thought it was best to keep him with me through the first two games.” Cone’s stellar performance as a freshman last year has the entire organization and many fans excited for the future, as Cone even drew praise from Cleveland Browns' receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after an explosion against the Syracuse Orange last year.
U went krazy that night homie!!! Lol I felt like I was suppose to come@out there to check u! All LUV— Odell Beckham Jr (@obj) May 14, 2020
This game was exactly what most people would have predicted it to be: anxious defense and sloppy offense to start, with the better team in Virginia Tech eventually showing their prestige as both sides settled in. The coronavirus made it impossible for most teams to organize scrimmages during their preseason, meaning that both teams were merely getting their feet wet during the first game of the fall. Both coaches seemed well-equipped to adapt on the fly, adjusting rotational patterns throughout the course of the game, and as impressive as coach Jones’ Radford squad looked at times: Tech was just better.
The maroon and orange won the turnover battle 15 to 10, shot the ball better in every category, utilized more of their bench with 10 men seeing action, and brought the fight to Radford.
It is only one game into the campaign, but if the fluid offensive attack that destroyed Radford inside and out can be coupled with a like, sound defensive performance more times than not, Hokie Nation could be in for a surprisingly productive season.
The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team will be back in action Saturday evening at 8pm EST when they take on the Temple Owls.