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Virginia Tech loses ACC opener to Wake Forest

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BLACKSBURG — In the ACC men’s basketball preseason media poll, Virginia Tech was picked fifth and Wake Forest 13th.

The Hokies opened ACC play with a home game Saturday against Wake Forest, but things did not go according to form.

Wake Forest shot a sizzling 63.5% from the field and squashed the Hokies 80-61 at Cassell Coliseum.

“Outplayed our tail today,” Tech coach Mike Young said. “Just an accumulation of minor details on our part that cost you ballgames — poor communication. … They thrive on your mistakes on that [defensive] end on the floor, and we made enough to make them pretty good.

“An atypical Hokie performance on that end of the floor. Just not sharp.”

The Hokies (6-3, 0-1), who have lost three of their past four games, trailed from the opening basket.

“It reminded me of the Penn State game last year [which Tech lost 75-55],” Young said. “What makes this even more painful is that it’s league play.

“I hate playing league games in December.”

An 0-3 start to ACC play now seems quite possible for the Hokies.

Tech will return to nonleague action for its next three games before resuming ACC play on Dec. 22 at Duke. Tech then visits North Carolina on Dec. 29.

“I could have designed a better scenario,” Young cracked. “Great friends down there in Greensboro in the league office, holy cow. But that’s what we’ve got.”

Wake’s 63.5% was the best field-goal percentage by one team from a Power Five conference against another team from a Power Five league this season.

“We’ve got to guard a lot better,” said Tech center Keve Aluma, who had 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists. “They just had a pop that we didn’t.”

It was the best field-goal percentage by a Tech foe since a Dayton team featuring Obi Toppin shot 63.6% in a Maui Invitational win over Tech in November 2019.

“We were playing catch-up all night — not catching up in terms of the scoreboard, catching up in terms of guarding them. A step behind,” Young said.

Tech entered the game having held foes to a field-goal percentage of just 37.4%. Prior to Saturday, Xavier at 47.8% had been the only Tech foe to shoot at least 42% from the field against Tech this season.

“This Virginia Tech team has been very, very good on that [defensive] end all year, with the possible exception of one [game against Xavier] in New York,” Young said.

But Wake (8-1), which led 38-34 at halftime, shot 60.7% in the first half and 66.7% in the second half.

“Our defense was not clicking how it usually is,” said Tech forward Justyn Mutts, who had 15 points. “They had a couple easy cuts for wide-open layups, a couple back-door cuts for dunks.”

The Demon Deacons scored 48 points in the paint.

“A lot of it was in our pick-and-roll actions,” Aluma said. “We’ve got to guard that better.”

Wake guard Daivien Williamson scored 19 points.

Demon Deacons center Dallas Walton, a 7-foot Colorado graduate transfer, had 17 points. He was 7 of 10 from the field.

Wake’s 63.5% field-goal percentage was the Demon Deacons’ best shooting performance in an ACC game since 2007.

“It just felt like Wake was able to get whatever they want,” said Tech point guard Storm Murphy, who had seven points. “If we cut off one lane, they were zipping it out for an open shot or another drive.

“Ball-screen defense is something we need to really improve on.”

Tech shot 41.1% from the field, including 34.5% in the second half.

“There came a point in the second half when our lack of getting stops … had a snowball effect on the [Tech] offensive end,” Young said.

Tech has shot worse than 42% from the field in each of the past four games.

Aluma had 18 of his 23 points in the first half. He was 2 of 8 from the field in the second half.

“I just couldn’t get anything in the basket [in the second half],” Aluma said.

Nahiem Alleyne was just 1 of 7 from the field in the game, while Hunter Cattoor was 1 of 5. Murphy was 3 of 7.

“Nahiem had a tough day,” Young said. “Cattoor had a tough day. Storm has got to come on for us.”

Up 48-45, Wake went on an 11-2 run to build a 59-47 cushion with 10:32 to go.

The lead grew to 74-54 with 3:54 to go. Wake was shooting 73.7% from the field in the second half at that point.

“Not being able to go on a big run, not being able to make that comeback is all part of our defense and not being able to get three stops in a row, something we harp on,” Murphy said.

Wake had lost to the Hokies six straight times. It was Wake’s most lopsided win in the series since an 83-63 victory in February 2005.

The visitors went on an 11-2 run to build a 23-12 lead with 10:05 left in the first half. Wake was shooting 66.7% from the field at that point.

Ex-Hokie Khadim Sy had seven points for Wake.

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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