The Virginia Tech men’s basketball season concluded Thursday with an 80-63 loss in the first round of the ACC tournament to fifth-seeded North Carolina State.
Coming off a lackluster performance at Wake Forest last Sunday, one in which the Hokies found themselves trailing by 14 at halftime, the team was well aware of the importance of getting off to a good start.
After missing their first two shot attempts of the game and falling behind 6-0 less than two minutes in, Tech strung together nine straight points, punctuated by an Erick Green three-pointer, for their first lead of the afternoon.
When the first media timeout rolled around with 14:03 left in the first half, the Hokies led the Wolfpack by one and every Hokies starter had recorded at least one basket; they were ready to play from the opening tip.
“I thought we came out ready to play, being in position in the first half and we weren’t able to get much going in the second half,” said Hokies first year head coach James Johnson.
Despite the fact that the Hokies entered the locker rooms trailing by just six, they struggled to develop an offensive rhythm.
ACC Player of the Year Erick Green was held to just nine points while committing four turnovers in the first half. Additionally, as has been the case all year, the Hokies struggled to find a confident ball-handler while Green was resting; they burned three of their five allotted time-outs in the first half.
“We weren’t attacking as much as we needed to be,” Johnson said. “We were loose in transition and that’s one of the things we talked about was not letting them get out in transition.”
“We wanted to not turn the ball over and we thought if we had them playing against our transition defense all night we’d be fine. But it was those turnovers that led to transition baskets.”
The Hokies entered the second half down by just six, but the the Wolfpack opened the second half with a 21-10 run, giving the in-state fans a reason to get out of their seats.
Richard Howell, who finished with a game-high 22 points, along with rest of the Wolfpack’s big men dominated the game on the glass. They outrebounded the Hokies 40-25.
“CJ Leslie and Richard Howell – the first game we had 20 offensive rebounds – I thought they did a good job of keeping us off the glass and limiting second chance opportunities tonight,” Johnson said. “Gotta give them a lot of credit. They played well.”
Furthermore, Tech’s offense, which due to early constant ball movement resulted in seven assists in the first half, became stagnant in the second portion of play. It wasn’t until Jarell Eddie knocked down a three from a C.J. Barksdale pass with 11:38 remaining in the half that the Hokies had registered their first assist in the second half.
Eddie’s 21 points led all Hokies scorers and allowed him to end what has been a roller coaster of a season on a high note. He finished the game shooting 64 percent and added three assists.
“I think Jarell made some plays; he made his shots today,” Johnson said. “All year long he was kind of up and down, but today he came out ready to play and he made some shots to carry us a little in the first half and on into the second half. That was definitely encouraging for Jarell Eddie and for the team.”
Green, however, was never able to find his rhythm and the nations leading scorer, averaging 25.4 points-per-game, finished with 15.