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Hokie Hardwood: Wake Forest

By Grant Mitchell | February 27
Bede wake forest
Photo: Virginia Tech Athletics

The #16 Virginia Tech Hokies (15-5, 9-4) defeated the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-13, 3-13) on “Senior Night” in Blacksburg, Virginia Saturday afternoon, 84-46.

The weekend sequel to a 64-60 ballgame in mid-January was a blowout from the start as elite three-point shooting and tremendous defense propelled the Hokies to their second largest margin of victory this season.

Keve Aluma posted another career-high as a Hokie, this time in three-point field goals made by shooting a perfect 5-5 from beyond the arc.

Smart, unselfish passing offensively helped wide open looks find all Tech players despite the cycling of defensive strategies by the Demon Deacons who threw man, 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone concepts at the Hokies.

Saturday’s outcome is sure to generate a mountain of momentum for Head Coach Mike Young’s squad after they stumbled in their return to action against Georgia Tech Tuesday following a 17-day hiatus.

The Plot

Flipping the usual script on its head, the Hokies came out of the gates hot. A couple of quick threes from Keve Aluma combined with on-ball pressure by Wabissa Bede helped VT soar to a decisive lead early, one that would not be touched for the remainder of the game.

Tyrece Radford showed off an outside touch that had not been seen before, burying two triples between the 9:18 and 7:07 mark on the game clock.

Cordell Pemsl also marked his return to the scoring column with a couple of nice buckets inside, scoring for the first time since December 21st. Pemsl was active on both ends of the court and looks to have put his back ailments behind him.

Whether inspired by their defeat earlier in the week or just falling back on natural competitiveness, the Hokies showed out for all twenty minutes of the opening period, capped off by a Joe Bamisile slam to send the game to halftime.

VT notched season-highs in points scored in a half and field goal percentage during the opening twenty.

The second half was no different for either team, mercilessly for the visitors: Virginia Tech continued to grow its lead to a peak of 43 points while the offense repeatedly found the open man, moving the ball both inside-out and outside-in.

Not to be outdone, the Hokie defenders threw a block party in the closing period, totaling 10 for the game: Hunter Cattoor led the team with three.

Wake Forest never stood a chance against VT Saturday as there was a fierceness in every move that was made by the maroon and orange. The Hokies finished the game shooting an astounding 53.4% from the field and 54.2% from three-point land.

Cattoor, Bamisile, Pemsl, David N’Guessan and John Ojiako all saw minutes off the bench, extending Mike Young’s rotation to 10 for the first time in a number of encounters. This type of depth and productivity is exactly the tonic needed for a group that seemed to be grinding thinner and thinner on able-bodied players.

The 46 points were the fewest that Virginia Tech has surrendered to an opponent this season, setting the team down a good path heading into the final week of regular season play.

The Players

Who else but Keve Aluma led the way in scoring again, posting 23 points and eight rebounds with a couple of blocks to boot.

The junior forward dealt a majority of his damage from long-range, knocking down five three-pointers in five attempts, a career best. Aluma is capable of getting open in pick-and-pop situations and appears to be growing more comfortable from distance, adding an extra dimension to his team’s approach with the postseason around the corner.

Tyrece Radford had an efficient game, using seven shots to score 15 points (2-2 3PT) and snag six rebounds (three offensive). Radford’s energy seemed to permeate through the team as his immense sprit powered him to secure a number of loose balls and extra possessions.

The sophomore’s two three-pointers was a career-high and although it is not much, it reflects a willingness to shoot the long ball, a quality that was limited in previous appearances. If Radford can bury a couple of timely threes in March, he is almost guaranteed to win the Hokies an extra game.

Nahiem Alleyne finished third in scoring, earning 13 points (3-6 3PT), five rebounds and tying a game-high five assists.

The deep-shot assassin is up to 50% from three over the last seven games and uses his movement off of pin-downs and flare screens to wiggle open for easy looks at the basket.

The Pretenses

Virginia Tech entered tip-off having been beaten in the midweek by a rapidly ascending Georgia Tech team while also boasting a 4-0 record after a loss, setting a precedent of what is inherently not a losing team.

The Hokies recently retained the services of guard Tyrece Radford after losing him to a near month-long suspension, adding their second-leading scorer back into the lineup.

Mike Young’s group were slated as the third seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament bracket, projecting them a two-round bye in the postseason affair.

On the opposite side of the action, Wake Forest has been trending down as of late. Inefficient offense and vulnerable defense doomed the Demon Deacons to an ugly four-game skid.

The North Carolina group is led by guard Davien Willamson’s 12.7 points and 44.8% shooting, though they struggle to find sustained contributions from multiple members of the roster.

The Postgame

“This is as enjoyable a team as any I have been a part of in a while.”

— Mike Young, Head Coach

Making good on a promise to put forth a better performance after Wednesday’s loss, the Hokies’ Head Coach declared his love for his crew of guys.

“We wanted to put our foot on their necks as soon as possible.”

— Keve Aluma, forward

The game’s leading scorer revealed that he was in attack mode early, reveling at the opportunity to strike a decisive victory at the peril of Wake Forest.

“This team is really special… we’re capable of great things.”

— Wabissa Bede, guard

Labelled “the most important player” by his coach, Bede foretold of greatness for him and his teammates this year.

“My focus is to lead these guys, show them that this team has an opportunity to make a deep run.”

— Cordell Pemsl, forward

The fifth-year transfer outlined his role as a leader on the squad and detailed how he can use his experience to help the team during the postseason.

The Performance

A 38-point embarrassment of a Wake Forest team that played the Hokies to a four-point differential a month ago was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Virginia Tech was clicking on both ends of the court as members of the outfit regained their confidence and rhythm while staring down a date with a Louisville squad that handled the Hokies earlier in the season.

Just like basketball is a game of runs, the basketball season is about timing the peak of the team. Although the matchup was favorable, there were a plethora of encouraging signs from the maroon and orange Saturday.

Time for Mike Young to make a statement by defeating the Cardinals on his home court next Wednesday.

Mike young