Basketball trails VT early, drops regular season finale

The Jackets headed into Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, March 6 for their final regular season game, squaring off against Virginia Tech. Despite rallying late in the game to pull within three, Tech was unable to go ahead, falling 88-82 to close out regular season play.

Senior forward Zachery Peacock, who was honored alongside redshirt senior guard D’Andre Bell for senior night, opened up the game with a three-pointer to put the Jackets on top. Just over five minutes later, though, VT had jumped in front 10-8, seizing the lead that would carry them through the rest of the game.

Hokies’ guard Malcolm Delaney led his team’s effort, scoring 12 points in the first eight minutes of play. By the 12:08 mark, VT had gone up 19-8, building an early double-digit lead behind Delaney’s scoring attack.

The Jackets responded with a 14-4 run in the ensuing five minutes, putting them within one at 23-22. Tech was able to keep it close for a short stretch, but the Hokies hit three consecutive three-pointers to go back on top by 10 with 3:41 remaining.

“They shot the ball really well,” said Tech Head Coach Paul Hewitt of the Hokies’ offensive production. “They shot 52 percent from three.”

In fact, the three-point shooting was VT’s main weapon in the first half. They shot 8-for-10 in the first half, four of which came off the hands of Delaney. Tech shot well from beyond the arc as well, going 6-for-16 in the first period, but they were unable to match the Hokies’ pace.

The Jackets outscored VT 12-8 in the final minutes of the half, narrowing the gap to six heading into the break.

Junior forward Gani Lawal hit a layup and drew the foul to open the second half, narrowing the lead to four, but he was unable to hit the ensuing free-throw

Tech shot relatively well from the stripe on Saturday, shooting 18-for-26 on the day for a free throw mark of 69.2 percent. Lawal, however, continued to struggle, hitting just four of his eight opportunities from the line.

Despite their solid effort, the Jackets were unable to compensate for the Hokies’ 29-for-36 performance in this category. Delaney alone notched 14 points from the line, only four less than the entire Jackets’ squad.

“In [VT’s] best games of the year, he’s gone to the foul line a lot,” Hewitt said of Delaney’s free throw shooting.

The teams traded baskets over the next five minutes, as the Hokies edged their way in front 55-47 with 15 minutes left to play. Delaney hit a layup to put the differential at 10, but sophomore guard Iman Shumpert countered with a three-pointer at the 14:13 mark to cut it back to single-digits.

The next two minutes saw no scoring from the Jackets. VT recorded six straight points to widen the spread to 12.

Shumpert and freshman forward Derrick Favors added two points with just over 12 minutes remaining, each hitting one of two from the line to put the score at 62-52. The Hokies responded with a jumper, but Favors put one home and drew the foul, completing the three-point play to bring Tech within nine with 11:22 on the clock.

VT went on an 11-4 run over the next three minutes with six of their points coming from the free throw line. The run gave the Hokies a 16-point edge with 8:34 to play, although they led by as much as 17 during the stretch.

The Jackets struggled to stay within reach. Lawal caused a turnover and put in a layup, but Peacock got called for a technical foul, giving VT forward Jeff Allen the chance to hit two free throws.

Shumpert followed with a three, but another Tech foul allowed Allen to hit two more foul shots, extending the Hokies’ lead back to 15 with just over six minutes to play.

Favors and Shumpert ignited the Jackets offense, though, adding a dunk and a three-pointer respectively to jump to within 10. Two Favors’ free throws with 3:31 remaining brought Tech back within single-digits for the first time in over nine minutes.

Shumpert hit another three to put the score at 80-74, bringing the Jackets within striking distance with 2:13 left.

“Iman [Shumpert] made some great shots. He took some threes, knocked them down, got the ball inside and converted,” Hewitt said of Tech’s late-game rally.

Bell hit two from the line after getting fouled in the paint, but Delaney answered with two free throws of his own at the 1:02 mark, maintaining VT’s 6-point advantage.

Peacock knocked down two more free throws, but again Delaney responded, this time hitting just one of his two opportunities. On Tech’s next possession, Favors got the ball down low and powered his way in for the layup, making the score 83-80 with only 36 seconds on the game clock.

Another Tech foul put Allen at the line for the Hokies, and he hit one foul shot to put his team up by four. Bell missed a three on the Jackets’ next possession, forcing them to foul to stop the clock.

VT converted both opportunities, increasing their lead to six with 22 seconds remaining.

Shumpert tried to hit a tough three, but he was unable to make it count, again forcing a Tech foul to conserve time. Delaney added two from the stripe, and although Favors added a quick layup to cut the deficit to six, time expired with the Jackets down 88-82.

The consistency and accuracy of the Hokies’ offense carried them through the entire game, as they finished the game shooting 51 percent from the field, 9-for-17 from beyond the arc, and 80 percent from the line.

VT also finished with four players in double-figures in the points column, with Delaney leading the pack at 32. Allen and guard Terrell Bell each recorded double-doubles; Allen had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Bell notched 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, all on the defensive end.

“We didn’t do a great job today defensively, but at the same time VT deserves credit coming in,” Hewitt said. “They made some big shots.”

Favors and Lawal led the Jackets in the scoring department, each registering 18 points in their final home game of the season.

The loss puts the Jackets at 19-11 overall and 7-9 in conference play, putting their hopes for an NCAA tournament bid at risk. When asked about their chances, Hewitt focused on the ACC tournament ahead.

“I still think we have a very good shot, but obviously we’ve got to go to Greensboro and play well,” Hewitt said. “They’re not handing out bids tomorrow, and that’s how we have to look at it.”