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Hokie Hardwood: Wake Forest

By Grant Mitchell | January 17
Mutts wake forest
Andrew Dye

The #20 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2, 5-1) defeated the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-4, 0-5) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina Sunday evening, 64-60.

The weekend matchup between two Atlantic Coast Conference opponents proved to be a closely contested battle due to a lack of ball security, poor shooting and lots of stoppages in play.

The Hokies were led by Tyrece Radford for the second time in five days as the sophomore guard carried his team to victory, sometimes seemingly single-handedly.

While Tech’s leading scorers in Radford, David N’Guessan and Hunter Cattoor combined to shoot 16-19, the remaining members of the roster only managed a 6-27 performance from the field.

With the win, the Hokies tied the mark for most wins in the ACC and moved within a half-game of the conference lead.

The completion of the weekend marked the halfway point in Virginia Tech’s season and showed that they are much different from last year’s team that was unable able to carry a hot start through league play.

Mike young coppin state
Photo: Matt Gentry

The Plot

Whether or not there was a residual emotional hangover from the Duke game earlier in the week, the Hokies were sloppy offensively.

Amongst the key letdowns in the scoring column were the most unsuspecting members of the team, Keve Aluma and Jalen Cone. The two combined to make one basket in 10 attempts and finished with a grand total of five points.

For as much as his offense struggled, Aluma’s early defensive performance kept the Hokies in the lead for the opening period. The junior forward recorded a career-high four blocks in the first twelve minutes of game time, setting the tone for a pitiful 7-31 first half shooting performance by Wake Forest.

Freshman David N’Guessan made an immediate impact off the bench in the first half, converting back-to-back and-ones. These quick six points gave the Hokies a momentum boost after they had begun to struggle and helped them carry a 29-23 lead into the intermission.

The second half was largely more of the same: turnovers piled up while three-point shooting fleeted and the Hokies battled through a game that was much closer than they would have expected.

N’Guessan continued his stellar night by contributing seven second half points while Tyrece Radford poured in another 14, giving him 20 on the night.

Even with the inspirational performances from the Radford/N’Guessan pairing, Virginia Tech needed a third man to come along: Hunter Cattoor answered the call.

Facing a 51-49 score and less than five minutes on the clock, Cattoor elevated over his defender for a long-range three before making a sweet, spinning layup for his team’s next basket. This gave the Hokies a five-point lead with 2:32 left.

A couple of defensive stands later and the Demon Deacons were in desperation time, forced to foul Virginia Tech to stop the clock. Tyrece Radford took three separate trips to the line during the final 46 seconds and converted all six of his attempts, sealing the deal for the Hokies.

The Players

Tyrece Radford was key in both halves, aggressively penetrating the lane and looking to run in transition. The sophomore guard posted 20 points (6-7 fg, 8-9 ft) and four rebounds (two offensive) along with two assists and two steals.

While the rest of his team seemed lethargic for extended stretches, Radford’s constant presence stabilized the Hokies through the rough patches and was the catalyst in their 11th win of the season.

Radford wake forest
Photo: Andrew Dye

The Pretenses

David N’Guessan entered Sunday with a career-high of five points and left with one of 13, knocking down all five attempts and all three free throws.

The 6'9 freshman has seen an increase in playing time in recent games and rewarded his coach’s faith in him while firmly establishing himself as the primary big man off the bench.

Hunter Cattoor is another player that has elevated himself in recent contests, providing efficient scoring (13 points) and air-tight defense (two blocks and a steal).

Although Cattoor turned the ball over three times he was still preferred to starter Wabissa Bede, notching six extra minutes in playing time. This battle for time on the court could be a situation to monitor depending upon the context of the coming games, and moments within those games.

The Hokies entered Sunday with a 6-1 record over their last seven games and a triumphant victory over #19 Duke five days prior. Coach Young’s squad dispatched the Blue Devils thanks to double-digit scoring by Tyrece Radford, Keve Aluma and Jalen Cone as well as sustained defensive efficiency over the closing minutes.

Cone has been invaluable for the Hokies since his return from injury four games into the season, leading the ACC in three-point field goals made while claiming the third-highest percentage from deep in the conference amongst qualified personnel. Such quality output from a high-volume shooter is rare and a major reason the Hokies have enjoyed such a fruitful beginning to their 2020-21 campaign.

Keve Aluma has been the constant for Virginia Tech this season, maintaining an average of 15.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. The junior transfer from Wofford had never averaged more than seven points in his collegiate career prior and is a surprise candidate for ACC team of the season.

Wake Forest have been trending in the opposite direction of the Hokies as of late, dropping four straight against all conference opponents. The Demon Deacons rank 201st in rebounding margin amongst Division-I programs and turn the ball over at an alarming rate, allowing their opponents to create second chance opportunities and points in transition.

Four players average 10+ points per game for Wake Forest, though two of these men are currently inactive due to medical concerns. 6’2 guard Davien Williamson headlines the remaining group, contributing 18.0 points and 48.3% shooting on a nightly basis.

The Postgame

“[On being near the top of the ACC] That’s where we’re supposed to be, we’re Virginia Tech…We look forward to playing [UVA]."

— Mike Young, Head Coach

The Hokies’ main man laid out his expectation for his program and was very complimentary of the University of Virginia and the opportunity to play them.

“I had the same mentality: just lock in and do my job, and I was able to do well today.”

— David N'Guessan, Forward

The Freshman forward attributed a career night to his mentality and readiness for the moment.

“I told my teammates and my coaches that I have to be more aggressive… the last two games I did that.”

— Tyrece Radford, Guard

Radford revealed that a conversation between him and the team has led to an increased output in the last two games, a trend that Hokie Nation will hope to see continue.

The Performance

In true Virginia Tech fashion, the Hokies followed up a dominant performance against #19 Duke with a nail-biter.

15 turnovers and just 10 assists is a point of concern for Mike Young and the coaching staff, though a season-high nine blocks as a team will definitely be noticed.

Yet again, VT found a new way to win when the usual methods were not working. This makes the maroon and orange a dangerous team in the postseason, given that they can receive contributions from everyone on the roster.

Losses by #7 Michigan, #8 Creighton, #12 Clemson, #14 Illinois, #15 Texas Tech and #16 Louisville over the weekend guarantee movement within the Top 25: two league wins and a defeat of #19 Duke are likely to promote the Hokies to their highest national ranking of the season.

Mike Young and his boys may be the best that they have ever been, in totality.

Three more games until the Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg for a battle atop the conference ladder.