Virginia Tech Basketball: 3 Things We Learned From The Win Over North Carolina
Virginia Tech men's basketball improved to 14-5 (5-3 in the ACC) with a 79-77 double-overtime victory over North Carolina on Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum.
It was a thrilling win for the Hokies, who narrowly avoided what would have been a devastating loss. North Carolina is in the middle of its worst season of the Roy Williams era, as injuries have ravaged the roster. The Tar Heels are now last in the ACC with an 8-10 overall record and a 1-6 mark in league play.
The Hokies did not have their best stuff on Wednesday night, but they were able to gut out a victory nonetheless. Here's three things we learned from the victory over the Tar Heels.
1. Jalen Cone is a star
Virginia Tech had been searching for a secondary scorer to team up with Landers Nolley throughout the early portion of the season. Nolley, a redshirt-freshman, has been everything fans had hoped he would be since arriving on campus two years ago. He's a relentless scorer, even when he's having a bad shooting night.
Nolley has been able to manufacture points at different times throughout the season when the Hokies have needed it most, but a consistent secondary scorer was needed for Tech to take the offense to the next level.
Jalen Cone has undoubtedly emerged as the secondary scorer that the team has so desperately needed. Cone scored 18 points on Wednesday night, with a 6-of-11 mark from downtown accounting for all of his scoring.
Things certainly looked bleak late in regulation for Virginia Tech, as the Hokies trailed by 7 with just over three minutes to play. With the Hokies desperately needing a bucket, Cone went on a personal 6-0 scoring run to pull Tech within one. From there, it was a total team effort in the final minutes of regulation and overtime, to lead the Hokies to the victory.
Wednesday night marked the fifth-straight game in which Cone finished in double figures. It was also the fourth time in the last five games that he has scored at least 14 points.
Nolley is the first option on offense, but Cone has emerged as an indispensable 1a.
2. Virginia Tech's size disadvantage will hurt them down the road
Virginia Tech struggled with the size of North Carolina on Wednesday night, as the Tar Heels seemed to get whatever they wanted offensively in certain stretches throughout the game.
North Carolina is by no stretch an offensive juggernaut, especially without Cole Anthony or former Virginia Tech commit Anthony Harris in the lineup. However, the Tar Heels still have talented pieces that can put stress on a defense on any given night.
On Wednesday, it was junior forward Garrison Brooks who put the Hokies in a bind. Brooks finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists on 11-of-18 shooting and was responsible for a good chunk of North Carolina's offense in the process.
In total, North Carolina outscored Virginia Tech 40-20 in the paint, and held the rebounding advantage over the Hokies 43-39. Despite this, the Hokies were still able to grind out the victory.
It is clear that teams who are bigger in the frontcourt will likely be the ones who lead to Virginia Tech's demise, but for now, the ability to win without elite size in the paint has been one of the most impressive aspects of Tech's 14-5 start to the season.
3. Mike Young is a National Coach of the Year Candidate
Forget ACC Coach of the Year, Mike Young has locked that up.
It may be time for Coach Young to receive National Coach of the Year consideration for what he has done in his first year in Blacksburg.
Consider this, Virginia Tech was picked to finish last in the ACC in the preseason by the media. For those voters at the time, it wasn't necessarily an unfair charge. The Hokies lost five out of its top six scorers off of last season's Sweet 16 team, and the majority of the players remaining on the roster were unproven freshmen.
Despite this, Mike Young has led Virginia Tech to a 14-5 mark, a 5-3 record in the ACC, and a 4th place position in the ACC standings as we enter the final weeks of January. The Hokies already have a signature upset against Michigan State to their name, and have emerged as one of the toughest teams to play in the ACC.
Many expected the Hokies to be a bubble team for the NIT this season, but instead they've spent a majority of the season on bubble watch for the NCAA Tournament, which is something that was unfathomable at the outset of the year.
Wednesday night's victory put another feather in the cap of Mike Young and the Hokies, as they continue to push forward towards March. If Tech is able to continue this run in conference play and makes noise in the ACC Tournament, not only will the Hokies be firmly in the NCAA Tournament field, but they'll be the biggest surprise of the college basketball season.
That alone should put Mike Young firmly in National Coach of the Year conversation.