The day started with the optimistic hope of the Jackets getting their first ACC win against a fellow squad struggling in conference play. Those hopes went unfulfilled. Let's see what happened.
The big X factor in the first half was certainly the defense. The score was 22-25 coming out of the first half and the Hokies were shooting an abysmal 26%. The Jackets weren't doing much better at 35%, but our shots were falling more often than theirs and thats what mattered. In the 2nd half, the Jackets got a little more aggressive and put the focus on the offensive side of the game. They shot 18 points in the paint as opposed to 12 in the first half. This gave the Jackets a consistent 7 point lead for a while, but then the Hokie's 2-3 zone started working and shut down the inside game. Coach Gregory thought VT was able to extend the zone well and make us miss some shots, but a lot of it was not "play[ing] with the basketball IQ that you have to play at in this league." I think that could be our biggest problem, because we always seem to panic in the second half and revert to the Paul Hewitt offensive strategy of "shoot the damn ball!" They also didn't finish the shots they did manage to get inside, going one for two or o'fer at the line. Overall, the traditional 4th quarter collapse reared its ugly head again. The only slight positive coming out of the game was the Jackets improved their fast break points and points in the paint ever so slightly, increasing to 30 this game.
Now, we can pontificate all we want about why these collapses have occurred in ACC play, but I think it really only boils down to one thing: mental stamina. My biggest hint to this effect was Mfon Udofia's mood when he came in for his interview after the game. He wasn't just downtrodden like a someone who just lost a close game would normally be, he was visibly crushed. Some might say that's a good thing and shows how much passion he has, but I think that if a person who is normally coached to look good for the press displays that kind of attitude, there's something wrong there. I'm not blaming Mfon in particular mind you, I'm just saying that the team needs to stop taking the game so seriously and have a little more fun with it. That's a hallmark of all great teams: they have fun with it. Of course you might say its easy to have fun when you're winning, but being able to have fun when you're losing is what separates a good team from a great team.
I could be the traditional pessimist that I write in the "Burdell's uncertainty principle" series here, but I can't do that just yet. There's still lots of ACC games left to play, and the hardcourt Jackets haven't pulled off their annual upset of a better team.