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NC State Demolishes Virginia Tech 97-77, Eliminate Hokies in Round Two of the 2023 ACC Tournament

By Nels Williams | March 09
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NC State was sinking everything under the sun Wednesday. Virginia Tech wasn't. (Nell Redmond/ACC)

Mike Young & Co. certainly hoped that some of the magic that helped propel the Hokies to win four games in four days and raise the program’s first ACC Championship Trophy in 2022 would still be left over for this year's Tournament and help Tech repeat as Champions.

Unfortunately for Virginia Tech (19-14), NC State (23-9) and reality killed the Hokies’ dreams at potentially making another fairytale run at the ACC Title in 2023, as the Wolfpack demolished Tech 97-77.

NC State quickly established that it wasn’t going to let Virginia Tech have any dictation of the contest. The Wolfpack quickly dug the Hokies’ grave, establishing an 11-point lead by the second media timeout in the first half. And by the buzzer after 20 minutes of play, NC State had dug Virginia Tech its grave, pulling away to a 27-point advantage that it would come nowhere close to equalizing.

“Credit to them. [NC State] had a really good game plan going out there,” Hunter Cattoor said. [It] really made it difficult for us to get in our sets and kinda get comfortable and good looks out there.”

Nothing was working offensively for Virginia Tech in the first frame. Compared to State’s stellar 64% (21-of-33) from the floor, the Hokies were a measly 32% (8-of-25).

The Wolfpack’s game plan consisted of shutting down the Hokies’ bread-and butter-plays offensively by creating a quick movement to set up a screen for Cattoor or Sean Pedulla, and if that failed, then finding Grant Basile or Justyn Mutts in the post.

State was quick to the ball after passes and to disrupt the attempted screens. D.J. Burns Jr. shut down Basile and Mutts in the paint. And shots simply weren’t falling Virginia Tech’s way.

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Rodney Rice has progressed nicely since his return against Miami a few weeks ago. (Nell Redmond/ACC)

Although Virginia Tech awoke offensively in the second half and made 18 of its 29 attempted shots, NC State still drained what felt like every shot at that point, drilling 18 of its 30.

NC State’s offense was spearheaded by the two-headed monsters Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner. Both Second Team All-ACC selections, Smith’s 30 -- which is the new record for the most points Virginia Tech has allowed from a player all-time in the ACC Tournament -- and Joiner’s 20 combined for more than half of NC State’s scoring. Smith was unstoppable from deep, as the sophomore was a phenomenal 5-of-7 from behind the arc.

“To cool him off, you try to play [Smith] one on one, and we did that, and you were there,” Tech head coach Mike Young said. “We couldn't do anything. We couldn't do anything with him.”

In a game that the Hokies will certainly move on from after they learn their mistakes from it, Rodney Rice’s performance was a positive takeaway. The Takoma, M.D. native dropped 17 points, and besides the two he gained from free throws, all came from 3-point range with under eight minutes remaining in the second half.

“He's had such a frustrating year for anyone, certainly a freshman that had such high hopes, we had such high hopes for, and battled through a number of really difficult injuries,” Young said. “And to get back here and play a cluster of games and play well and be part of the rotation … I thought he played well. I thought he looked comfortable, and that is a great sign for us moving ahead.”

Although he was stymied by State’s defense, Cattoor finished with nine alongside Sean Pedulla. Basile posted 11. And in what may have been Mutts’ final games as a Hokie, the Millville, N.J. product ended with 15.

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Justyn Mutts attempted to invigorate Tech's prowess in the paint to no avail. (Nell Redmond/ACC)

Mutts has been synonymous with Virginia Tech basketball since his arrival in 2020. And his message to Hokie nation -- albeit bittersweet -- is nothing but positive.

“Thank you, and I love you to everybody that’s always supported me and just been there,” Mutts expressed. I’ve been in college for a long time, so I just can’t express the gratitude to everybody who’s followed my journey and just been there and supported me all of this time. … It’s been a blessing, truly this whole journey.”

Looking towards the near future, whether or not Virginia Tech played its last game of the season in the Greensboro Coliseum is up to the NIT’s selection committee. Per thebarkingcrow, Tech is slated to play potential No. 3 seed Liberty in the Providence Region if the Tournament were to start tomorrow.

Young hopes to see the Hokies playing more basketball this March, and thinks the 19-win Hokies are worthy to play in the NIT. Tech’s backcourt leader would have to agree.

“I wouldn’t pass up playing any more games with these guys,” Pedulla said. “I love everyone in here, and just getting the chance to play another game with everyone in here would be something I’d be down for.”

NC State clashes with Clemson tomorrow at 9:30 on ESPN.