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Marquis Rankin leaves team
Written by Ryan Durham   
Friday, 27 December 2013

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, Virginia Tech announced that Marquis Rankin’s career at Virginia Tech is over. Rankin, a junior guard who attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, did not dress in any of the Hokies games this season due to personal reasons.

“I completely support Marquis on his decision, “ said head coach James Johnson in the statement. “He is an outstanding young man who had to make a difficult choice and I know that he took the time to make sure it was the correct decision.”

Johnson added that Rankin will remain enrolled at Virginia Tech and plans to earn his degree from the school.

Rankin played in 53 career games at Tech, making 13 starts. Rankin averaged about 16.5 minutes per game but was not very productive, averaging three points per game, one assist a game, and shooting only 37 percent from the floor and just under 60 percent from the free throw line.

Rankin becomes the third player to leave the program from former head coach Seth Greenberg’s vaunted 2011 class. That class included Dorian Finney-Smith, who was perhaps Tech’s highest-rated prospect to join the program, but transferred to Florida after Greenberg was fired in 2012. That class also included Robert Brown, who transferred to UAB this past summer.

Rankin also becomes the eighth player in the past three years to depart from the program after either enrolling in school or signing a national letter of intent. Ben Boggs, Manny Atkins, and Tyrone Garland, along with Finney-Smith and Brown, all recently transferred out of Tech’s program.

Meanwhile, Montrezl Harrell and Donte Clark were each released of their letters of intent before enrolling at Tech. Harrell is playing in his second season at Louisville, while Clark enrolled at UMass as an academic nonqualifier with plans to officially join the team this summer.

Tech hosts UNC-Greensboro Saturday at noon.

 
VCU runs Hokies out of Richmond
Written by Ryan Durham   
Saturday, 21 December 2013

Heading into its tilt with VCU, Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson talked a lot about avoiding bad stretches of basketball, especially against the Rams. Unfortunately for the Hokies, they had visions of the Michigan State game from a month ago, as VCU went on a 37-2 run for most of the first half. That run never made the game close, and Virginia Tech lost by a final score of 82-52.

“We knew they were capable [of a big run],” Johnson said. “I wasn’t anticipating that big of a run. We talked about their ‘spurtability’, and how every game they go on a run and wear you down. It happened tonight, and it was just too big.”

VCU’s 37-2 run lasted 11:23, and the Rams scored 31 straight points over the final 9:26 of their run. During that 31-0 stretch, the Hokies committed 11 total turnovers while missing all 11 of their shots from the floor. Tech also got manhandled on the boards, as VCU out-rebounded the Hokies 15-7, and the Rams collected nine offensive boards.

“I told our guys that if you want to press tonight, then you can make this game a lot of fun,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. “[The run] ranks right up there with the run we had against George Mason a couple of seasons ago.”

The Hokies were never able to slow down VCU’s offense after the Rams went on their run. Despite shooting 64 percent from the floor for the rest of the game after the 31-0 stretch, Tech found themselves down by 20 at halftime and never cut the deficit to less than 15 points.

VCU, meanwhile, out-scored the Hokies 38-23 after Tech made it a 15-point game early in the second half, capping the game off with a 15-3 run late into the second half.

Melvin Johnson had a lot to do with the Rams explosive offensive showing. The sophomore had a career-high 27 points and made his first seven three-point attempts. Juvonte Reddic was the only other VCU player to score in double figures with 10 points, and Briante Weber, Treveon Graham and Reddic were the only other Rams to score at least three field goals.

“After the second shot… my adrenaline immediately started rushing and I was all over the place,” Melvin Johnson said. “From there, I went to Coach Smart and I said ‘one more’, so he tried to run another set and it actually worked, and I got another shot off. Honestly, it was a surreal feeling. It felt like everything I put up was going to go in.”

“We went to the zone a little bit [early in the game] and lost [Melvin] a little bit,” James Johnson said. “Once he got going and hit a couple, he was on fire. He hit some shots when he was wide open and we lost him. Then a couple times, we were right there in his face and he hit them. We knew he was a good offensive player coming in, we just gave him too many open looks tonight.”

But the Hokies never fixed their turnover woes, giving them no shot to pull off a miracle run. Tech finished the game by committing a season-high 27 turnovers, leading to 42 VCU points.

“We fought back and tried to do some things in the second half,“ Johnson said, “But still, even after we broke the press, we turned the ball over in the half court. Just too many turnovers.”

Jarrell Eddie, Tech’s leading scorer this season, scored 12 points while attempting only 10 field goals. The senior only took two shots from the floor in the first half, and was a non-factor through most of the game.

Ben Emelogu, who made his first career start, also scored 12 points while taking 10 shots from the floor. But the freshman also committed seven turnovers and was continuously flustered by the Ram’s press defense.

Though almost nothing went right for Tech against VCU, Johnson says he won’t throw the game’s tape out completely.

“We’ll watch tape, learn from it and move on,” Johnson said. “But we take something from every game, win or loss. It’s one loss and we’ve got to move forward.”

Other tidbits

·      CJ Barksdale and Adam Smith both played today, but left early due to injury. Both players were questionable coming into today, as Barksdale was nursing a knee injury while Smith was dealing with a calf strain.

·      Cadarian Raines did not play today due to a coach’s decision. Raines is a native of Petersburg, just down I-95 from Richmond. Raines has not escaped Johnson’s doghouse since the Michigan State game.

·      Tech becomes the sixth VCU opponent to commit 20 or more turnovers this season.

·      The last time the Hokies failed to score 60 points was when they played Duke on March 5 last season.

·      VCU becomes the fourth opponent to score at least 80 points against the Hokies. Tech is now 2-2 in those games.

 
Cutting sloppy stretches is key to preventing havoc vs VCU
Written by Ryan Durham   
Thursday, 19 December 2013

Havoc is a word used to define instances of widespread destruction and devastation. There is a reason why Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams have coined the term for their style of play, because that’s exactly what they’ve done to their opponents over the past five seasons.

Under Smart’s speedy and suffocating style of full-court presses and traps, VCU has forced an average of 16.5 turnovers a game during the previous four seasons. The Rams feasted off of those turnovers to create easy basket opportunities, averaging 73 points per game in those seasons.

Despite losses to Florida State, Georgetown and Northern Iowa so far this year, VCU’s style is every bit as formidable as previous years. The Rams are currently second in the NCAA in total turnovers forced, and have averaged almost 20 takeaways per game through 11 games.

This is the style of play head coach James Johnson wants to bring to Virginia Tech, or at least something similar. But in the meantime, Johnson is focused on correcting his team’s miscues in order to prevent what he calls VCU’s “spurtability.”

“We’ve got to be very efficient for 40-plus minutes,” Johnson said. “We can’t have our 2-minute sloppiness lead to their 4 or 5-minute run, and that’s usually what happens. We cannot contribute to that. That’s a big point. That’s something we’re really talking about.”

The Hokies have played solid offensive basketball through 10 games this season, averaging over 77 points per game with four players averaging double-digit points scored per game. The team also has had 10 players score at least 10 points in a game, and an average of three players a game score in double figures.

But despite an efficient offense and a defense that has been able to make stops more times than not, the Hokies seem to find themselves in a stretch during almost every game where shots aren’t falling and mistakes pile up.  

One such example is the Hokies game against Winthrop, where the Hokies for a 7-minute stretch during the second half committed six turnovers and took only five shots from the floor. Another example comes from Tech’s game against Michigan State, where during the Spartans 30-6 run that lasted almost 13 minutes, the Hokies committed seven turnovers while shooting 2-of-19 from the floor. The Hokies were also out-rebounded 14-10 during that stretch, collecting only three offensive rebounds.

Jarrell Eddie, Tech’s leading scorer and senior leader, knows that the Hokies cannot afford to have these kinds of instances during games, especially against a team like VCU.

“Every game you don’t want to have that 2 or 3-minute stretch where you’re just not executing,” Eddie said. “But in this game it’s going to be important that we don’t because that gives them their run and confidence.”

Perhaps the best way for Tech to avoid those kinds of moments is by getting through VCU’s full-court press. Though both Johnson and Eddie said preparing for the tempo of the Rams’ press is hard to do, the plan is to attack it head-on by passing instead of dribbling. By doing this, the Hokies are hoping to create opportunities for open looks and easy shots close to the rim.

“If we can beat their press, we want to try to attack it,” Johnson said. “That means attack for lay-ups and dunks. Certain guys will also have the green-light to take an open 3-pointer anytime.”

Johnson acknowledged that in order for this to be successful, multiple people will be responsible for handling the ball over the course of the game. With CJ Barksdale and Adam Smith both questionable for Saturday’s game, the onus will likely fall on freshmen guards Devin Wilson and Ben Emelogu, in addition to forwards Marshall Wood and Eddie, to hold make snap decisions while protecting to the ball in order to put the Hokies offense in position to score.

“It’s going to be a good challenge,” Eddie said about facing VCU. “The competitor in me definitely says that we’re up for the challenge. We know that they’re a good team, but we’re a good team and it’s going to be a good game.”

 
Hokies look to reconcile What If season in the Sun Bowl
Written by Ryan Durham   
Saturday, 14 December 2013

Heading into its game against Duke, Virginia Tech was not only undefeated in ACC play, but was ranked 16th in the AP poll and in pole position to claim the team’s sixth Coastal Division title. However, the Hokies were upset by the eventual Coastal Division champion Blue Devils, and lost three of their final five games, two of which were at home.

It was this stretch of games that had defensive coordinator Bud Foster saying “what if” during the team’s bowl media day on Saturday.

“There’s a couple of games obviously, and you guys know, that we should have won,” Foster said. “Worst-case scenario is we win one of those games and maybe go 10-2. That’s the frustrating part from a ‘what-if’ standpoint.”

Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler had a similar assessment when asked about the season his unit had.

“The fact of the matter is we let three football games slip away,” Loeffler said. “I think during this bowl preparation we should have a chip on our shoulder.”

Even if Tech’s coaches admitted that the team should have finished the season with a better record, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t satisfied with how the team played over the course of the fall.

“I’m not disappointed at all. At all,” Foster said. “There has not been one time all year that I was disappointed in any kind effort or passion. I think I can count on one hand how many plays I’d like to have back all year. The kids did everything we asked of them defensively this year.”

Foster went on to say that he considers this season’s unit amongst the more fun groups he’s had to coach, and even made a comparison to his 2005 squad that consisted of Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi.

“You knew what you were going to get every time they stepped on the field,” Foster said. “They cared about each other, they played extremely hard for one-another, and they did it for four quarters and 12 football games.

“We had an ACC championship defense, if not a national championship-type defense,” Foster said. “I told them that’s something they can be very proud of and I’m proud of them for what they’ve done.”

Loeffler’s only real criticism of his unit was the lack of consistency throughout the season. But the only thing on his mind right now is the team’s Sun Bowl tilt with UCLA on New Year’s Eve, and re-iterated that he wants his unit to use the disappointment during Tech’s final five games as motivation to beat the Bruins.

“If you’re anything of a competitor whatsoever, and if you really self-evaluate, we let three football games slip through that we shouldn’t have,” Loeffler said. “And if you’ve got any juice whatsoever or any fire in your body, you get another shot. We’re fortunate to get a shot versus a really good football team.”

Loeffler went on to compare the Hokies current situation to his experience at Michigan leading up to the 2008 Capital One Bowl. That year, the Wolverines were ranked 5th in the preseason AP Poll, but finished their regular season with four losses overall, including a season-opening loss to Appalachian State and back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State to finish the season.

However, Michigan went on to beat Florida in the Capital One Bowl, and Loeffler wants his seniors to take its cues from that team.

“That group of seniors decided that they were going to get together and play their best football against Florida and they did,” Loeffler said. “So what I’m expecting is the seniors to rally the young guys and really get a great preparation and go play their best game against a really, really good football team.”

If the Hokies do beat UCLA, they will claim the program’s first win over a ranked bowl opponent since Tech beat Cincinnati in the 2009 Orange Bowl. It would also be the program’s first win in a bowl west of the Mississippi River since the 2002 San Francisco Bowl, its first win against a current Pac-12 member, and its first win over a ranked non-conference opponent since Tech beat Nebraska in 2009.

For head coach Frank Beamer, this accomplishment would go a long way to reconciling the Hokies finish down the stretch.

“If we can beat [UCLA], I think we end up ranked in the polls ourselves,” Beamer said. “And I think for our football team, that has gone through the injuries and played the young kids that we’ve played this year, that’d be a really good accomplishment.”

And, as linebacker Jack Tyler says, it could make everyone forget about the team’s disappointments entirely.

“I think the bowl game is just kind of that everlasting taste in everybody’s mouth of how the season went,” Tyler said. “If you go beat a team like UCLA, everybody kind of thinks this year was a success. If you go and lose, everybody kind of thinks the opposite. And that’s kind of what bowls are. They are that last thought of the season and the last thing everybody remembers.”

Other tidbits

·      There’s not much clarification on the statuses of cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum for the Sun Bowl, but both are progressing according to coaches and players. Fuller’s brother Kendall even went so far as to say that Kyle was “really close” to being back at full participation, but added that his brother is still a bit hesitant to open his stride and fully test his injured groin out.

·      Beamer said that Kyshoen Jarrett and Luther Maddy were the only two undergraduate players to his knowledge that have submitted paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board. However, both Beamer and Foster believe that neither will end up entering the draft.

·      While discussing the topic, Foster revealed that Jarrett will likely undergo offseason shoulder surgery.

·      Beamer mentioned Jerome Wright as a player he is interested in seeing during the team’s practices over the next couple of weeks, and made it sound like he will get a good amount of reps at runningback behind JC Coleman. Wright is a true freshman who was an early enrollee back in the spring, and has seen most of his action this year at special teams.

·      When asked if he ever interviewed for the vacant head coach job at Connecticut, Foster just shook his head no. He gave the same gesture when asked if he received a phone call about the position. UConn hired Bob Diaco as its head coach this past Thursday.

 

 
Tech claims wet and wild tilt versus Marshall
Written by Ryan Durham   
Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The rain was not the only crazy aspect of Virginia Tech’s game against Marshall.

After a tipped pass that found the hands of wide receiver Willie Byrn, a blocked field goal, a fumble-sack that defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins almost took to the endzone, and three overtime periods, Tech was able to notch their third win of the season by beating the Herd 29-21.

“First of all, I would like to thank God for everything that he’s given me,” quarterback Logan Thomas said. “Finally one went my way.”

After running only 18 plays and notching two first downs in the second half, the Hokies offense took over with 9:25 left in the fourth quarter and drove 83 yards on 14 plays. That drive was aided by a huge fourth down conversion in the Hokies redzone when Thomas found wide receiver Joshua Morgan for an 11-yard gain.

Following that play and an illegal substitution by Marshall, Tech found itself on the one-yard line. But the offense went backwards, first on a 1-yard loss by runningback Trey Edmunds and a bad snap to Thomas on the following play. Thomas was able to scramble for four yards on third down, but was tackled two yards shy of the goal line, forcing another fourth down.

On that play, Thomas threw to an open Byrn on the right side of the endzone. However, Thomas’s pass was late, allowing Marshall’s Darryl Roberts to close the gap and make a play. Roberts tipped the ball into the air, and Byrn made a circus grab along the edge of the endzone for the game-tying score.

“Most of the tips this year haven’t gone our way in the pass game and it was good that we got that one to go our way,” Byrn said. “The play was open but [Roberts] made a really good play. Fortunately for us he’s not 6-4, he’s like 6-2 or something.  But he under-cut it and he just made a really good play. I was lucky enough to see the tip all the way through and into my hands.”

Marshall’s fast-paced offense had 3:04 to re-take the lead, and was in position to do so after quarterback Rakeem Cato hit Devon Smith on a 43-yard go-route. Two plays later, Cato tried to hook up with Smith on the same play. But safety Kyshoen Jarrett closed the gap and stole the ball from Smith in the endzone for an interception.

“At first thought I was like ‘C’mon Ky, get over get over,’” linebacker Jack Tyler said. “Kyshoen has great range. He’s one of the top safeties in the country for a reason. We expect him to make that play and he did. He even got the pick and boomed [Smith] a little bit so we were all laughing about that. But that’s just what kind of player he is.”

When the game went into overtime, Hopkins stole the show for the Hokies defense. After the Hokies failed to score on their first overtime possession, Hopkins came through the middle and blocked Marshall’s Justin Haig’s game-winning attempt. Three plays later in the second overtime, defensive end JR Collins strip-sacked Cato and Hopkins scooped the ball up. Hopkins bolted, or rather rumbled, for the endzone, but was tripped up at the 20 yard-line.

“That would have made my week [if he’d scored],” offensive guard, and fellow big man Andrew Miller said.

However, it would take until the third overtime period for a team to score. Thomas did it all on the Hokies possession in the period, completing both of his passes and running it in for both the go-ahead touchdown and the two-point conversion.

“We couldn’t have a better leader than Logan,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “He’s not only tough but smart and competitive. We follow that guy.”

All told, the game was equal parts odd and ugly for the Hokies. Tech’s offense continued to be mired in inconsistent play all-around, netting only 185 yards on 59 plays outside of its three scoring drives. Thomas threw two interceptions and was 7-for-23 passing outside of those same scoring drives.

Tech’s defense gave up 361 total net yards, the most since last November against Florida State. Marshall’s offense was able to dictate the pace most of the game, converting six of its 11 third down situations through three quarters. However, the Hokies defense clamped down on the Herd’s third down successes from the fourth quarter on, as Marshall converted only three of its nine third down opportunities. The Herd also failed to score a single point during the second half and overtime periods.

“I think we just kind of got comfortable with what they were trying to do,” Tyler said. “We figured out that they were trying to kind of exploit our defensive ends and try to get them up the field. Obviously Cato had a huge first half rushing the ball. We kind of just tried to figure that out and figure out what defense to be in to negate those plays. That’s why coach [Bud] Foster is the best at what he does because at halftime he’s got 10 minutes to make adjustments to hold them out in the second half and that’s what he does every time. So kudos to coach Foster.”

The Hokies will open ACC play this Thursday in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. Despite having to face the Yellow Jacket’s vaunted triple option, the team feels the short week will not hurt their preparation.

“We’ve got it all planned out,” Beamer said. “We know exactly what time we’re doing what and the whole deal, but it’s bunched together. But it is what it is.”

Notes:

·      Kicker Cody Journell was suspended for today’s game for a violation of team rules. Ethan Keyserling made his first career start, and while he hit three extra points, the walk-on redshirt junior went 0-for-3 on his field goal attempts for the day. Journell will be available, assuming he’s healthy, for the Hokies game against Georgia Tech.

·      In addition to Hopkins’ blocked field goal, Kyle Fuller blocked Marshall’s punt following their first drive. The ball was picked up by Derek DiNardo, who would go on to score. It was the first time Tech had two blocked kicks since the 2010 opener against Boise State.

 

 

 

 
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