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Hokie Hardwood: South Florida

By Grant Mitchell | November 30
Hokie Hardwood: South Florida
Photo: Jessica Hill

The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the South Florida Bulls 76-58 Sunday, the second night of a back-to-back for both universities. This matchup was the first between the two schools since 1994, and Head Coach Mike Young’s Hokies dominated from the onset.

Tech seemed to be in cruise control for a majority of the contest, excluding a bit of pressure from USF in the middle of the first half, allowing coach Young to reprieve high-volume players like Keve Aluma and Wabissa Bede from some of their usual minutes.

The Plot

The Hokies deployed the same lineup that began the second half against Villanova, opting for the Aluma/Mutts pivot in the post with Bede, Radford and Alleyne flanking them on the perimeter. VT placed an early focus on containing the size of the Bulls of South Florida, who feature two seven-footers, by sending double teams to the opposing big men whenever they received the ball in the painted areas. This defensive strategy combined with an early 12-2 run allowed Blacksburg’s finest to seize an early lead that would only continue to grow as the game went on.

USF, for what it’s worth, executed their defensive game plan effectively: the Bulls played tight on perimeter shooters and used their bigs to hedge and trap the Tech ballhandlers off of the high screen and roll, resulting in the Hokies shooting 5-16 from deep. Unfortunately for USF, coach Brian Gregory was unable to adapt his strategy after the VT offense began to navigate the opposing coverages. Cartier Diarra found Cordell Pemsl on a number of dump-off opportunities while Tyrece Radford’s slashing ability punctured the diminished interior of the Bulls, ultimately resulting in 20 first half paint points for Virginia Tech.

As much as South Florida exerted themselves defensively, they struggled to find an offensive rhythm all night. The Tech guards repeatedly dared USF’s Caleb Murphy to take three-point shots, of which he went 0-1, and the interior rotation of Mutts, Aluma and Pemsl proved too savvy defensively for the Bulls’ offensive matchups.

A 2-13 field goal slump by the Bulls helped the Hokies take a 13-point lead into the intermission, while the second half was very relaxed from the VT perspective. USF did their best to compete, but after failing again and again to get themselves back into the game, it seemed as if they gave up on themselves.

Aluma usf
Photo: Field Level Media

The Players

Tyrece Radford, the player efficiency rating darling, was the front man for his squad tonight, making him the first Hokie to outscore Keve Aluma in a game this season. Radford’s 21 points on 9-12 shooting came via consistency in lane penetration from start to finish and exposed the defense of South Florida.

Hunter Cattoor was next up in the points column, notching 13 on 60% field goal shooting along with a couple of assists. Cattoor was energetic and continually looked for his shot, responding well to having his place in the starting lineup taken away.

Cordell Pemsl put forth his best effort in a Virginia Tech uniform and showed his value as a fifth-year transfer, going 4-5 for 10 points and grabbing six rebounds, but most importantly stifling any Bull that attempted to penetrate his lane. The former Iowa man drew two charges and was repeatedly called upon to deny shot opportunities around the rim, to which he shone on every occasion. Pemsl’s most impressive play came when he shuffled his feet to stay in front of an attacking USF player, negotiating a flurry of moves and slapping the ball of out his opponent’s hand while simultaneously drawing an offensive foul. Pemsl will be able to guarantee himself added minutes in future games should he continue to display this level of defensive intelligence.

Joseph Bamisile is one player that the Tech fan base will be hoping to see increase his productivity. The true freshman and 64th overall high school recruit of a year ago is only three games into his college career, though he has been inefficient. Bamisile has recorded three points and seven rebounds to go with two turnovers, shooting 1-12 from open play. “Joe” has exhibited a poor shot selection, though this may be a result of trying to force a rhythm in limited minutes. No player that averaged 28 points and seven rebounds and was selected to the all-state team in high school is incapable of performing, and it is just a matter of time before the Chesterfield native starts generating top-drawer performances for the Hokies.

The Pretenses

Virginia Tech went into Sunday’s game with soaring spirits following their victory over #3 Villanova the night before. The Hokies’ bombs-away approach has paid dividends thus far, lifting the team over their first three opponents against whom they recorded 11, 10 and 5 made three-pointers.

Coach Young’s fierce roster presents a nightmare matchup for opponents due to their flexibility and well-roundedness: Wabissa Bede is the best perimeter defender in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Keve Aluma offers a consistent inside threat on both ends, Hunter Cattoor and Naheim Alleyne are willing long-range snipers, Cartier Diarra can fit in anywhere, and both Justyn Mutts and Joseph Bamisile provide energy and athleticism to their units. While the rotations are yet to be set in stone, Virginia Tech has rolled out three opening lineups in three games of basketball this season and seem unbothered by pivoting their game plan to counteract the strengths of their adversaries.

Mike young usf
Photo: @HokiesMBB

VT came in to the game shooting 47.9% from the field and 45.7% from three-point land, far outpacing the averages of 41.2% and 35.7% that they had allowed to their opponents. Though the maroon and orange have not been as secure with the basketball as usual, coming off of a year in which they finished 5th in assist-to-turnover ratio amongst all Division I programs, their current pace of 1.22 assists per turnover is more than enough to carry them to a solid record should the defense uphold the staunch intensity that they have demonstrated.

The University of South Florida, like Virginia Tech, were fresh off of a Saturday night battle, though came in looking surprisingly energetic following a loss at the hands of the University of Rhode Island. The Bulls found themselves victorious in their first game of the season, defeating Florida College 94-84, thereby bringing them to a record of 1-1 at the time of tip-off Sunday night. USF Head Coach Brian Gregory entered the weekend undefeated against Mike Young-led teams, having secured three consecutive victories over the VT coach.

South Florida came in looking to create problems for Virginia Tech by attacking their main strength and weakness: two seven-footers in the form of Michael Durr and Russell Tchewa have locked down the glass for the Bulls this season, utilizing size the Hokies are devoid of, and their defensive activity around the perimeter held opposing teams to just 30% shooting on three-point shots through their first two games.

Last year was not the kindest to South Florida, as they found themselves finishing below the .500 mark and in 9th place of 12 schools in the American Athletic Conference. The Bulls did manage to retain the services of 2019-20 leading scorer David Collins and have enough depth on their roster to distribute playing time as needed, evidenced by nine players hitting double digits in minutes during their season opener.

Coach Gregory finds himself in the early parts of his fourth year with the program, having made significant improvements during his time there, and will be looking to grow the responsibility of Junior Alexis Yetna. The Parisian-born forward was forced to sit out last season with a knee injury, emptying the air from a fan base that had witnessed play so dominant that the USF big man earned himself AAC Freshman of the Year honors just two seasons ago. Yetna’s talent, combined with the scoring prowess of guards David Collins, Justin Brown and Jamir Chaplin, will be instrumental in South Florida’s journey through conference play this season.

The Postgame

“In the last 24 hours, I think Virginia Tech has taken a really big step forward.”

— Brian Gregory, USF Head Coach

Coach Gregory offered his praises for the performances turned in by the Hokies over the weekend. In such a short season, an undefeated record with a win over the #3 Villanova Wildcats could result in the Hokies entering the top-25 rankings sooner rather than later.

“I’m so glad Jalen Cone is coming back Thursday… he might be the best shooter in our program.”

— Mike Young

Mike Young confirmed that Cone will return to the lineup Thursday against VMI after being sidelined by a foot injury. Cone led the ACC in three-point percentage and was seventh in the nation last season, torching the net at a 45.7% standard.

One of CBS’s lead insiders complimented the coaching of Mike Young, growing the national attention of a Virginia Tech team that has shown no signs of relenting.

The Performance

This “trap” game was a huge challenge for the Hokies on paper: battling a hungry USF squad that possesses a drastic size advantage and lockdown perimeter defense the night after an overtime thriller against the third-ranked university was a bump in the road waiting to happen. Fortunately, the discipline that Mike Young has drilled into his squad shone through as they handled business against what ended up being an inferior South Florida team. Cartier Diarra seems to be an embodiment of Young’s philosophy, playing lockdown defense and transitioning between all phases of offense with no guarantees of starting minutes.

Tech failed to hit their average in three-point marksmanship, though they showed an ability to win in different ways and held fast to the principles that they were taught: hustle, unselfishness and togetherness.

Mutts usf
Photo: Jessica Hill

This Virginia Tech roster is showing the early dynamics of a team destined for greatness. The Hokies will enjoy a six-game streak of home fixtures, beginning with a matchup against VMI on Thursday, December 3rd at 8:00 p.m. (EST).

Might we be witnessing the opening pages of a special story?

Grant Mitchell

My name is Grant Mitchell and I am a Junior at Virginia Tech majoring in Sports Media & Analytics. The first college football game that I ever watched was Tech versus my dad’s alma mater, UVA, and after Tech took a 43-3 lead I became a lifelong fan. I was born and raised in northern Virginia and competed in track and field through high school and my first year of college before transferring to VT. I love to tell a good story and keep close track of all things sports related, so I hope to provide the best content for you that I can!

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