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Virginia Tech having a rough go of it lately

January 30, 2014 Columns No Comments

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – James Johnson summed it all up fairly quickly and concisely to begin the press conference.

“It was a very disappointing night at both ends of the floor for us,” the Virginia Tech head coach said.

A quick look at the scoreboard would be all you need to know, as Boston College blew out the Hokies 76-52. This is just the latest setback, however, and it’s not a good time for the team right now.

The loss was the seventh straight for Virginia Tech, dropping them to 1-7 in the ACC. They are all alone in last place, but there’s more than just the bottom line. Virginia Tech has been blown out a few other times this season, but this was the second game in a row with a margin of at least 20 points. That comes after they were close in the previous four games, including a three-point loss to these same Eagles in Cassell Coliseum for BC’s only other ACC victory.

With the young team they have, it’s easy to wonder how this is affecting the players. Johnson said he felt they had a good couple of days of practice leading up to the game, but the losses may be taking their toll.

“We’ve got to come out and play the way we practice,” said Johnson. “I think we’re playing real tight right now, because we want to win so badly.”

Virginia Tech has just two seniors and five freshmen on the roster. They also have two other first-year players in UNC Wilmington transfer Adam Smith and sophomore Joey van Zegeren, so in all that’s seven players who didn’t play a game last season. Add in injuries to Smith, who has battled a left calf issue for much of the season, and junior forward C.J. Barksdale, who sat out Wednesday’s game due to a strained groin, and the already-small margin for error gets even smaller.

In fact, continuity has been among this team’s biggest issues. Only three Hokies have played in all 20 games thus far, so a number of their rotation players have missed games. In addition, just one player – freshman guard Devin Wilson – has started all 20, while 11 different players have started at least one game.

The Hokies have actually counted on Wilson for a lot, as he leads the team in minutes. He’s also had to emerge as one of their best players during ACC play in part out of necessity, as ACC teams have done a much better job of keying on Jarell Eddie than the Hokies’ non-conference opponents did and the senior’s numbers are down sharply in conference play. On Wednesday night, the opposite happened, as Eddie broke out for 23 points on 8-13 shooting, including 19 in the first half on 7-10 shooting, while Wilson struggled with just five points on 1-5 shooting in 38 minutes.

Johnson was encouraged by Eddie’s performance, although he also felt Eddie wore down a bit in the second half. Neither team will send a copy of the video for the second half to the Hall of Fame, least of all the Hokies as they shot just 5-23 from the field and scored 19 points. The Hokies had a chance to cut into the lead after it ballooned to 21 points early on, but never gathered much momentum.

While Virginia Tech isn’t playing the defense they were in non-conference play, they haven’t been quite too bad in ACC play. They have been out-rebounded, but that’s a combination of the play at both ends of the floor. The offense is what has been ugly, as the Hokies are shooting under 38 percent from the field in conference games.

Things don’t get any easier for Virginia Tech. They are in the midst of a stretch with four of five on the road, and the lone home game in that stretch is against Maryland on Saturday before they go to Florida State and Pittsburgh next week. But right now, the opponent doesn’t matter very much. The first thing the Hokies must do is what Johnson talked about and gain confidence from some success. Right now this team is not in a good place and has to start somewhere.

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