Virginia lost by one: There are worse things

uva basketballYou’re worried that, what if Virginia Tech just put the blueprint for how to beat Virginia out there for the world to see? OK, I’ll bite.

You hold Virginia to 34.4 percent shooting, entice them into shooting a mind-numbing 38 threes, shoot 43 percent yourself, make 38 percent of your threes, outrebound them, outscore them in the paint, and then somehow induce a 93.4 percent free-throw shooter into missing the back end and front end of successive 1-and-1s, all so you can win by one, yeah.

Helluva friggin’ blueprint.

By the way, did I mention that this Virginia Tech team, right now, according to Joe Lunardi, is an NCAA Tournament team?

There are so many things about this game that scream, sometimes God just points down from on high and says, that team is going to win.

Which isn’t to say that Virginia Tech didn’t outplay and outscheme Virginia tonight. Tech coach Buzz Williams called a timeout at the 13-minute mark of the first half, down 13-5, and went to a matchup zone that stalled Virginia, fueled a 17-0 run, and put his team up seven at the break.

Even when Virginia did what Virginia does, putting the clamps down on the Hokies, the nation’s third-best shooting team coming in, at 51.3 percent, holding them to 16 second-half points on 28.6 percent shooting, the matchup zone stymied Virginia, which had to rally on a pair of Ty Jerome forays into the lane in the final minute to send the game to OT.

Credit, then, to Tech, which found itself down five with 38 seconds to go, but was able to score on its last three possessions, a driving layup by Kerry Blackshear, a three by Nickeil Alexander-Walker, then another layup by Blackshear, off a loose ball under the basket.

Virginia, for its part, had the empty possessions on the missed free throws by Hall, who in essence left three points on the court with his free-throw misses, then Ty Jerome thinking that he can’t miss in the final moments, because he hasn’t missed in the final moments lately, except that he did, twice, at the end of regulation and then at the end of the OT, when he could have attacked a little more and gotten better looks for himself or a teammate both times.

That all said, Virginia was outplayed, outhustled, outshot, outschemed, out-everythinged, and lost by one in OT.

It’s not time to bench Jack Salt or Isaiah Wilkins for De’Andre Hunter, as I’ve seen suggested. You would like to see coach Tony Bennett give Hunter more minutes, and also give Nigel Johnson and maybe also Marco Anthony more minutes.

Ideally, you’d like to see Hall, Jerome and Kyle Guy getting 30-33 minutes a night in the backcourt, with some combination of Johnson, Anthony and Hunter diving up the other 20-30 minutes. Give Wilkins 28-30 minutes, give Salt 20, and then Hunter and Mamadi Diakite get to split the other 30.

There’s nothing wrong with the defense. Virginia Tech had 49 in regulation tonight. They had 52 in the blowout loss in Blacksburg last month. The D was as solid as it needed to be.

The issue is the offense, which, it still should be pointed out, averaged just under a point per possession tonight, even with the ugly numbers.

I’m of the opinion that getting Hall, Jerome and Guy more rest will pay off in terms of their overall output, and in the mover-blocker scheme you need your perimeter guys to carry the load offensively, both scoring from outside and also getting the ball into the lane.

That means Johnson, maybe Anthony and certainly Hunter need to be utilized more. Hunter had what was for him his usual solid game tonight, scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 26 minutes off the bench.

He needs to be getting 25 minutes a night even though he’s not starting for this team to be at its optimal level.

No doubt, future opponents, probably beginning with Miami, will use the Virginia Tech game plan, try to clog the lane, try to entice Virginia to take contested threes.

It’s just like when a hitter goes a month or two hitting everything in sight, and then a team spends a weekend throwing him nothing but sliders, and he goes 1-for-15 with seven strikeouts. The rest of the league will take notice, start throwing the guy a steady diet of sliders, until he proves he can hit the slider.

Virginia is going to have to beat the matchup zone, probably a few times, as we look down the stretch.

Losing sucks, losing to your in-state rival really sucks, losing to your in-state rival when if you score two more points, you’re #1 in the nation for the first time in more than 35 years, really, really sucks.

Now you know what your warts are. You need to use your bench more, and you need to attack the paint more, and if you don’t, and play your C-minus game against an NCAA Tournament team, and your 93.4 percent fifth-year senior free-throw shooter misses the front end of a 1-and-1, you’re going to lose by one.

There are worse things, like losing at home against a sub-.500 team, losing twice in a week, losing by double-digits at home to your in-state rival.

Just for instance.

Story by Chris Graham