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February 22, 2014

VT Can't Close On Pack

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All game, Virginia Tech kept within a manageable distance, but never could break through.

NC State led the whole game and held off the Hokies 71-64. Senior forward Jarell Eddie and freshman guard Devin Wilson had a team-high 14 points, while Wilson added nine assists, but they had trouble slowing down Wolfpack sophomore forward T.J. Warren, who had a game-high 31 points. Warren's teammate, sophomore guard Tyler Lewis added a career-high 12 assists.

For coach James Johnson, it was again a bit disconcerting to see his players come up short down the stretch. Virginia Tech trailed by just four with a few minutes to go, but the Hokies hit just 22 of 37 free throws and allowed 22 more shots than they got.

"It's been up and down, different guys in different games and tonight, it was a little bit of everybody," Johnson said. "I'm not sure why it's been so rough for us at the free throw line this year. It's something that we've gotta continue to work on, keep getting better at. But we can't afford to leave those points out there on the board."

Virginia Tech quickly found itself down to start after a pair of three-pointers from NC State, setting the tone for the rest of the half. The Hokies would stay within striking distance with a few baskets, but couldn't keep up the pace. Of course, it didn't help that freshman guard Ben Emelogu and senior forward Cadarian Raines both sat out with ankle issues, creating a short bench.

Virginia Tech stayed within six throughout most of the first half, until a fast, 7-0 run by the Wolfpack gave them a 29-19 lead with 4:37 left before halftime. But NC State surged late in the half, making it a 13-4 run to take a comfortable 35-23 lead with under a minute to play.

"Coming out in the first half, we were a little lackadaisical," Wilson said. "We weren't really taking care of the ball, we were trying to get it to other people and it just wasn't really falling. We just weren't taking care of the ball today."

By halftime, the Hokies trailed 35-25, but one of their biggest issues was guarding Warren. He had 17 points in the first half. Lewis, was also a headache, matching a career-high in assists, with nine in the first half. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech shot just 31.8 percent from the floor in the half, while the visitors shot a scorching 50 percent.

The Hokies pulled to within six on a dunk by sophomore forward Joey Van Zegeren just under two minutes into the second half, but the Wolfpack continued to hold off their opponent. NC State pushed its advantage to 11 with 14:45 left. A 61-46 lead with 7:23 to go was its largest lead of the day.

Thanks to some deft shooting and ball-handling by Wilson, Virginia Tech hung around. The Hokies used a 7-0 run to get back into the game at 61-53 with 5:42 left after a three-pointer by Wilson.

"We were down the whole game, so we fought hard to get ourselves back in it," Eddie said. "We really just worked hard, we fought and never quit. It's just, when it comes down to the end of the game, we don't have as many points as the other team or they have more points than us usually, in late-game situations."

Virginia Tech fumbled its chances down the stretch to close the deficit further. The Hokies drew to within 67-63 with under a minute to go, but couldn't finish the plays they needed to overall.

"Over the last three minutes, guys are really gassed and they're really tired," Wilson said. "That plays into a big part of why we don't finish layups or we don't make easy jump shots, we're short on things, missing foul shots. It really hurts us when we don't have bodies."

With just four regular season games left, Virginia Tech now sits at 9-17 and 2-12 in the ACC. Next Saturday is the Hokies' final home game of the season, 2:30 pm against North Carolina.

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