The Hokies struggled last night at UNC-Greensboro, but they battled through the adversity and pulled out a solid 96-87 victory. The first road game is never easy. James Johnson, coaching his first game on the road, and the team responded well enough to improve the Hokies record to 4-0. Here are my observations from the game.
For the first time this season, the Hokies faced some real adversity. A test like the one UNC-G gave Tech on Monday night is something that every team goes through at some point. How every team reacts, however, is what separates the good teams from the bad teams.
It is way too early to say whether or not this Virginia Tech team is a good team or a bad team yet. Only four games have been played against four teams that are unlikely to be in the NCAA tournament. Playing in their first road game of the year against an opponent that was playing “above their heads” so to speak, however, Tech did respond like a good team.
Tech jumped out to a quick 23-9 lead before slowly letting UNC-G chip away at it, eventually allowing them to take a 33-32 lead after going on a 17-2 run. The Hokies responded well with a 10-2 run of their own, before closing out the half with a 45-41 lead.
In the second half, the Hokies once again pushed the lead out to 14. Once again, UNC-Greensboro went on a big run, taking the lead again, 77-73, with only six minutes remaining in the game. And once again, Tech responded positively, closing out the game on a 23-10 run.
In years past, it seemed like Tech would lose a game like this. Play down to the level of the opponent. Let them hang around. Play sloppy at the end of the game. Allow a team of lesser capabilities to steal a win from them.
Not this year. Not so far at least. Tech played their best in the final five minutes of the game last night after blowing those two separate 14-point leads. That is a welcomed sight for many.
Three point shooting
Malcolm Delaney in a tweet during the VMI game said that this was the best shooting Virginia Tech team he had ever seen. He may well be right.
Jarell Eddie, Erick Green, Robert Brown and Will Johnston are all on fire from long distance right now. Eddie is 12-22 (53.5-percent), Green is 8-16 (50-percent), Brown is 10-22 (45.5-percent), and Johnston is 8-13 (61.5-percent). How many teams nationally have four guys with 13 or more attempts shooting over 45-percent from behind the arc? I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it is a lot. While the individual percentages certainly won’t stay this high throughout the course of the season, they all are likely to stay at an above average rate.
Overall Tech shot 14-22 (63.6-percent) from long distance against the Spartans, finishing only two away from tying 23 year old school record from three pointers made in a game. In that game against Marquette back in 1989 when the Hokies made 16 three pointers, they attempted 36. If the Hokies had attempted 36 last night, they would’ve blown the record away.
As a team collectively they are shooting 45.7-percent for the year, which now puts them at No. 8 nationally in that category through four games. Three-point shooting is going to be a major strength for the team this entire year.
Jarell Eddie’s evolution as a player
Anyone that followed the team last year as well as this year can see the difference in Eddie’s game. We have harped on it here over the last few weeks, but Eddie has taken a HUGE step in his development as a player. Monday night, it was once again apparent.
Eddie’s stat line for the contest against UNC-G: 7-9 from the field, 5-5 from three, 9-10 from the free throw line including making his final five of the game in crunch time, five rebounds, two assists and three blocks in 34 minutes. That is a fantastic performance.
Eddie is taking the ball to the basket more. When he is given an open three pointer, it is pretty much automatic. He even showed a little bit of a post-up game last night. He is playing hard defense and challenging every shot. He is proving to be clutch at the end of games. All of the flaws that he had in his game last year, (ball handling, taking the ball to the basket, boxing out, staying in good position for help on defense, etc.) there has been considerable, noticeable improvement in each category. It is obvious he worked hard on his game over the summer.
Right now, Jarell Eddie is playing at an all-ACC level. Can he keep it up as the season progresses? It remains to be seen. But he looks prepared to have a spectacular season.
Lapses in defense
Tech had some really bad defensive lapses last night. It is what kept the Spartans in the game. Robert Brown and C.J. Barksdale in particular were called out for bad defense by Coach James Johnson, and overall you could tell that he wasn’t pleased with the team’s effort on that side of the ball.
There were too many instances where on-ball defenders weren’t coming hard enough around screens, help side defenders weren’t stepping up quickly enough and backside defenders weren’t rotating down to the block fast enough. When UNC-Greensboro was making their comebacks, a lot of their baskets came off easy shots (a wide open three pointer is considered an easy shot, as well).
Tech played great defense in their first three games. On Monday night, they had their worst performance in that category. Johnson will undoubtedly focus on that this week in practice, and try and “whip” his guys back into shape, but hopefully going forward this was just a bad night’s performance and not the beginning of a trend. If Tech is struggling to guard Korey Van Dussen and Derrell Armstrong, how are they going to stop Marcus Smart and LeBryan Nash when Oklahoma State comes to town in a few weeks?
Clutch free throw shooting
There have been countless instances in the past where poor clutch free throw shooting cost this program wins. Malcolm Delaney was a great free throw shooter, but for some reason he couldn’t make them when it matters the most. Last year, the team collectively missed a bunch of free throws down the stretch in the game at Florida State which led to the most heartbreaking defeat in a season filled with many of them.
The same cast of characters that missed the free throws last season against Florida State is the guys that are going to be shooting them again this year. Monday night was the first test to see how this version would do in this sort of situation.
The first thing that was apparent was that the ball was being forced to Erick Green and Jarell Eddie. Robert Brown, even though he is a good shooter, still does not seem comfortable making free throws and the team doesn’t seem very confident in him either. Green and Eddie had the ball in their hands for almost the entire final four minutes. They were the ones who were going to have to make their free throws to put the game away. They rose to the occasion.
Between the two of them, they were 17-18 from the line from the moment that Green stepped to the free throw line with 4:18 remaining in the game, with the Hokies down by one, until Tech put away the 96-87 victory. Eddie was 5-6. Green was 12-12. Both looked calm, confident and unfazed by the situation. If Tech has two guys that can step to the free throw line at the end of games and essentially ice it for the Hokies; that will be very big for the team.