10 THOUGHTS ON THE VIRGINIA TECH REMATCH
Rutgers (16-10, 7-8) experienced deja vous Wednesday night in Blacksburg as the Scarlet Knights lost 71-70 to a very beatable Virginia Tech team (13-13, 6-9). For the second time in three years, Virginia Tech knocked Rutgers off the NCAA bubble. Whereas Rutgers just didn't show up two years ago, this time the Scarlet Knights took it to the Hokies. Rutgers led by 8 points at halftime and extended the lead to 15 points with 12 minutes remaining. However, Rutgers collapsed in the final 10 minutes and let the Hokies back into the game, which Virginia Tech won on a tip-in at the buzzer. Here are 10 thoughts on the Virginia Tech rematch.
1. Meltdown. There is no other way to describe Rutgers collapse in the final 10 minutes as Rutgers blew a 12-point lead. Virginia Tech outscored Rutgers 25-12. After shooting 50% on its FGAs, the Scarlet Knights made only 2 of their final 12 FGAs. Rutgers scored only two points of a possible six points from the FT line in the final minute. After holding Virginia Tech to 46 points on 38% FG shooting, Rutgers yielded 25 points on 10 of 15 FGAs. Worse, Rutgers yielded points on 15 of 16 consecutive possessions during 26-point Hokie outburst. The meltdown was complete when Ricky Shields let Coleman Collins past him for an uncontested offensive rebound and putback at the buzzer.
2. True Grit. In my Key to the Virginia Tech Rematch, I stated the Rutgers would have to match the Hokies toughness and intensity. Rutgers did exactly that in seizing a 36-28 halftime lead. Rutgers attempted 14 FTs in the first half to only four for Virginia Tech. Rutgers drew three fouls on PF Bryant Matthews and C Philip McCandies. And the Scarlet Knights held the Hokies to 35% FG shooting. Rutgers extended the lead to 15 points by continuing to attack the Hokies inside, where foul trouble forced Virginia Tech to play soft. But the Hokies raised their intensity over the final 12 minutes and the Scarlet Knights lost their composure. Rutgers allowed Virginia Tech to score easily in transition (10 of their final 30 points), inside (6 points), and on putbacks off offensive rebounds (6 points).
3. Bryant Matthews. In my Keys, I stated that Rutgers must force Matthews to work for his points – less than one point per equivalent FGA – without giving other Hokies good shots. At halftime, Matthews had only scored 6 points on 3 of 9 FGAs. Mission halfway accomplished. But Matthews was the aggressor in the second half, relentlessly attacking the soft interior of the Scarlet Knight defense. Matthews scored 16 points in the second half on the equivalent of 13 FGAs (6 of 9 FGAs and 4 of 8 FTAs). Matthews single-handedly got Rutgers frontcourt into foul trouble and then attacked the softened defense. Matthews hustle willed Virginia Tech to the win.
4. Dribble Penetration. In my Keys, I noted that Rutgers halfcourt offense thrives on dribble penetration and that the Scarlet Knights must attack the Hokie defense with dribble penetration. Rutgers abandoned dribble penetration in favor of perimeter passing and shooting. The Scarlet Knights scored only 7 points in the first half off dribble penetration – all from the FT line after fouls drawn by the dribble penetration. Rutgers scored only 6 points in the second half off dribble penetration -- only two of which were scored from the FT line. The result was fewer fouls drawn on the Hokies, which resulted in Rutgers reaching the FT bonus only in the final 30 seconds.
5. Defensive Rebounding. In my Keys, I stated that Rutgers needed to grab 75% of the rebounds available on its defensive glass. Virginia Tech scored on putbacks on both of its first two possessions (one in transition). The Hokies didn't score another second chance point during the first half. Rutgers grabbed 20 of 24 rebounds available on its defensive glass during the first half (83%). Rutgers poor second half defense – Virginia Tech shot 55% on FGAs – limited the defensive rebounding opportunities. Rutgers compounded its poor defense with poor defensive rebounding. The Scarlet Knights collected only 13 of 19 potential defensive rebounds (68%). Virginia Tech scored 6 second chance points – all on putbacks and all during the final 12 minutes when Rutgers was trying to protect its seemingly insurmountable lead.
6. Transition. In my Keys, I stated that Rutgers needed to score at least 15 points in transition because its halfcourt offense – especially on the road – was too often victimized by poor judgment. Despite dominating its defensive glass, Rutgers scored only 6 transition points in the first half. Four occurred in the final 90 seconds as Rutgers opened an 8-point lead. The Scarlet Knights added only four transition points in the second half. Nonetheless, transition scoring was even with 10 minutes remaining. But Virginia Tech, struggling so badly to score itself, recorded 8 transition points in the final 9 minutes while Rutgers didn't score at all in transition.
7. Sean Axani. Talk about deja vous. Two years ago, Rashod Kent turned in one of the worst performances of his career in Blacksburg with an NCAA bid on the line in his senior season. Kent's play was uninspired and foul trouble limited both his minutes and his production. Two years later, senior captain Axani turned in one of the worst performance of his career with an NCAA big on the line. Axani was given the assignment of covering the Big East scoring leader, Matthews. Sean committed an ineffective transition foul in the first minute, still allowing the basket and giving Virginia Tech a bonus free throw. Two minutes later, Axani fouled Matthews and earned a seat on the bench. He played only one minute during the remainder of the first half and went to the locker room with goose eggs on the stat sheets. Axani fouled Matthews on an attempted defensive rebound less than two minutes into the second half. Back to the bench. Axani returned at 16:00 and contributed a block, rebound, and two baskets before committing his fourth foul on a putback by Collins. Back to the bench. Axani fouled out 30 seconds after returning to the game. He played only 9 minutes.
8. 3 Jack. Rutgers attempted to win the game from behind the 3-point arc. Such a strategy has been disastrous on the road all season as Rutgers has shot poorly away from the RAC. However, the Scarlet Knights found the range in the first half, making 4 of 11 3PAs. Rutgers scored 16 of its 38 first half points on perimeter shooting (off perimeter passing/dribbling). In the second half, Rutgers extended its lead by attacking Virginia Tech inside. But, over the final 8 minutes, the Scarlet Knights abandoned their inside attack that had been so effective and began launching quick 3PAs. Several times during Tech's decisive 14-0 run, the Hokie announcers commented that Rutgers was inexplicably jacking quick 3's, allowing Tech to score quickly on the other end. The rapid possessions allowed the Hokies to quickly erase a 15-point deficit. Shields (3) and Quincy Douby (2) were most guilty of poor judgment, launching five awful 3PAs between them over the final 12:00.
9. Adrian Hill. Hill was a warrior. He scored 11 points on 5 of 7 FGAs and grabbed 9 rebounds in 28 minutes. Adrian was instrumental in extending Rutgers lead to 15 points. On a night when Axani was a no-show, Hill filled in admirably. However, Hill got into foul trouble during the final 10 minutes and his absence from the floor created mismatch opportunities for Matthews, who proceeded to immediately capitalize. Hill's foul trouble was unnecessary, as Hill committed two stupid fouls that cost him late. With one second remaining in the first half, Hill fouled Allen Calloway on an inbounds pass underneath Rutgers basket. While Calloway missed the front end of the one-n-one, that foul against Hill would gain meaning in the second half as Axani was missing in action. Hill committed two fouls on Matthews during the opening 10 minutes of the second half. But a silly loose ball foul on an attempted offensive rebound put Hill on the bench with his fourth foul with 8:00 remaining. Hill fouled out with an ineffective foul on dribble penetration that yielded the basket plus the bonus FT.
10. FT Shooting. Rutgers attempted 14 FTs in the first half on 12 Virginia Tech fouls, making 12. Eight FTAs resulted from dribble penetration and two more resulted from transition. The Rutgers big men drew several fouls against Virginia Tech inside. The FT shooting offset an 8-3 disadvantage in TOs and 10 more FGAs by Virginia Tech. In the second half, Rutgers attempted only 9 FGAs. And made only 5. Marquis Webb missed two FTAs with 1:00 remaining and Juel Wiggan missed the front end of a one-n-one with 9 seconds remaining. While Virginia Tech attacked the basket – and earned 22 FTAs – Rutgers settled for perimeter jump shots. Rutgers did not enter the FT bonus until the final 30 seconds. As a result, when Virginia Tech, trailing by one, fouled Wiggan on a defensive rebound with 9 seconds remaining, Wiggan was shooting one-n-one. Had Rutgers played more aggressively in the second half, the Scarlet Knights would not have been faced with one critical FTA in the closing seconds.
The loss to Virginia Tech squashed Rutgers NCAA dreams. All that remains of the season is the rematch with Seton Hall, the Big East tournament, and the National Invitation Tournament. Given the way that Rutgers has collapsed in each of the prior to seasons under Gary Waters' "leadership", I see a similar meltdown on the horizon. I see three straight losses. Probably ugly losses, too. This team is emotional and lacks discipline. I just don't see them recovering from their VaTech hangover. And, to be honest, I don't have a hell of a lot of sympathy, either. For either the players or the coaches. You reap as you sow.
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