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Hokie Hardwood: Syracuse

By Grant Mitchell | January 23
Alleyne syracuse
Photo: Mark Konezny

The #16 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3, 5-2) were defeated by the Syracuse Orange (9-4, 3-3) in Syracuse, New York Saturday afternoon, 60-78.

This loss came via the famous Syracuse zone and a lack of defense in the painted area.

Keve Aluma and Jalen Cone struggled mightily for the second consecutive game, leaving the Hokies without the firepower of their two leading scorers.

Saturday's defeated ended what is now cemented as Virginia Tech’s second-best start to ACC play in program history.

The Plot

Syracuse dominated the majority of the ballgame.

Despite the best efforts of Nahiem Alleyne, who scored 12 of the Hokies’ first 13 points and finished with 20 total, the Orange succeeded in knocking Virginia Tech out of their usual rhythm.

A Jim Boeheim zone flustered the maroon and orange and forced them to take an abundance of three-point shots, some of which were not high-quality looks.

Keve Aluma and Jalen Cone were blanked in the first half while Tyrece Radford, Justyn Mutts and Wabissa Bede accounted for just four first half field goal attempts. Syracuse made it a priority to close the lane and force the Hokies into long-range shots, essentially removing these three from the action offensively.

While ‘Cuse only managed to convert one three-pointer in the opening period, they entered the intermission holding a 40-34 lead. Marek Dolezaj led the way with 14 points while Alleyne’s 17 stood out amongst a team of visitors struggling to find effective shots.

Head Coach Mike Young’s halftime talk did not change much as the Orange managed to win the second half 38-26 and secure the victory thanks four 13+ point outings.

A barrage of attacks in the painted area were the key to Syracuse’s second half performance, forcing the Hokies to foul or leave them open for good looks at the basket.

Keve Aluma and Jalen Cone only managed to knock down one shot each while Alleyne’s individual brilliance flamed out, leaving the Hokies looking lifeless on offense at times.

VT finished shooting 32.8% on field goals and 27.6% from beyond the arc, a testament to the quality of Syracuse’s defense. This is not the first time this season that coach Young’s club have faltered against zone defenses, revealing a glaring weakness in the Hokies’ schematics.

The Players

Nahiem Alleyne was the lone bright spot for Virginia Tech Saturday: the sophomore guard scored 20 points (5-10 3PT) and secured four rebounds, making him the obvious choice for Tech’s player of the game.

Alleyne looked to attack early and take over, something that he has not done for a number of games. With the SU zone tending to leave deep shots open, Alleyne demonstrated his ability to knock down uncontested looks in an important game.

David N’Guessan put forth another impressive performance, contributing 10 points (4-5 FG), a rebound and an assist in 14 minutes of action.

The freshman forward is now averaging 11.5 points in his last two games despite having a previous career-high of five points and has demonstrated impressive instincts along the baseline.

Tyrece Radford joined Alleyne and N’Guessan in double figures with 10 points and seven rebounds (four offensively), though was reduced in his impact by the blockage of the lane.

Radford thrives in space and speed and a congested painted area diminished his role in the contest. Even still, Radford continued a stretch of efficient performances and showed why he is one of the best rebounding guards in America.

The Pretenses

The Hokies entered the weekend with their eyes set on closing the half-game advantage held by #13 UVA atop the Atlantic Coast Conference ladder.

A midweek matchup against Boston College had to be postponed due to positive COVID tests within the Eagles’ program, giving Mike Young’s squad extra time to rest and prepare for one of the tougher road trips in college basketball.

This is only the second time in the program’s history that the maroon and orange have begun ACC play with a 5-1 record: the 2006-07 Hokies managed to make it to 6-1 before suffering consecutive defeats.

Keve Aluma has led the Hokies for most of the season with 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while Jalen Cone’s 11.7 PPG in just 19.4 average minutes of action cement him as a favorite for sixth man of the year.

Tyrece Radford has been VT’s catalyst in recent victories, making good on his claim that he needed to be more aggressive following a string of uninspiring performances.

Radford has averaged 19 points and eight rebounds in two games since making his assertion and has been the clear leader on the court. When Radford is playing attack-minded basketball, the Hokies are nearly impossible to slow down.

Syracuse, despite dropping three of their last five and entering Saturday in the 10th spot of the ACC rankings, were given a 63% chance of victory according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.

A 7-1 home record combined with a recent 83-57 thumping of the Miami Hurricanes meant that Syracuse would enter the ballgame feeling just as capable, if not superior to the Virginian visitors.

Five players average double-digit scoring for Head Coach Jim Boeheim’s squad, making them tough to slow down due to the spread of their ability.

The Postgame

“Look at our spacing… it’s got to be a constant and it wasn’t.”

— Mike Young, Head Coach

The Hokies’ coach told reporters that his team will need to do a better job positioning themselves next time they play a zone defense.

“Throughout the whole game I was telling [Jalen Cone] to keep shooting.”

— Justyn Mutts, Forward

The junior forward revealed that he has the utmost confidence in Jalen Cone’s ability and encouraged him to keep shooting despite back-to-back poor performances.

“We just weren’t making our normal shots today… we just need to be better next time.”

— Nahiem Alleyne, Guard

Alleyne credited Syracuse’s defense but also stated that he and his team need to be better at converting open opportunities.

The Performance

Though it was a difficult matchup, Hokie fans will be disappointed in the outcome.

VT could have tied their best start in school history and potentially moved within the top 15 of the national rankings, though that is now a moot point.

Coach Young will need to figure out how to consistently beat zone defenses following his team’s renewed struggle against them while players will need to consistently make perimeter shots. Jalen Cone’s 1-8 and Hunter Cattoor’s 1-5 stat lines on three-point shots will not cut it in the tournament.

Putting the loss behind them, the Hokies will look to regain next Wednesday against Notre Dame. VT defeated the Irish 77-63 earlier in the season and got the best of then #19 Duke two days later.

A bump in the road was to be expected, though the wheels have not fallen off: next week offers a chance to stabilize before taking on #13 UVA in exactly seven days.