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February 14, 2013

Lack of depth taking its toll on Hokies as season moves toward final weeks

By: Jimmy Robertson

Cadarian Raines scored in double figures in back-to-back
games for the first time this season when he had 10 points against
Miami and 12 against UNC.

Fresh off an extremely disappointing overtime loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, Tech coach James Johnson sat in the postgame news conference afterward and fielded question after question about the loss and the team going forward.

When asked if there was anything he could have done to change things and kept his team from wearing down, he gave a good-natured response.

“What I could do is tell him (UNC coach Roy Williams) not to play all those guys he’s playing,” Johnson said with a smile. “Tell him, ‘Let’s play 6 for 6. You can’t do any more.’ But that’s not how the game works.”

The Hokies, who fell to 11-10 overall following the 72-60 setback to the Tar Heels, led for the entire first half after jumping out to a 12-0 lead. Tech held that lead for the first 10 minutes of the second half as well.

But in the final 10 minutes, the Hokies made just two field goals. That said, they somehow had the ball with a chance to win the game in the waning moments. Erick Green, who struggled for most of the game, missed a shot with less than 4 seconds remaining, and the game ultimately went into overtime. The Tar Heels outscored the Hokies 17-5 in the extra frame to pull out the victory.

Tech’s lack of depth is starting to show. The roster features nine scholarship players, but only eight of them play, and one of those, freshman Marshall Wood, just returned from a fractured foot. Johnson tries to buy minutes of rest here and there for his regulars, but the object is to win the game and the Hokies can’t afford to be without guys like Green and Jarell Eddie on the court.

Against UNC, Green played 43 minutes. In the previous seven games before the UNC game, he played at least 35 minutes in all seven. Eddie played 38 minutes after playing 36 and 34 minutes, respectively, in the Hokies’ previous two games. Cadarian Raines played a career-high 40 minutes against the Tar Heels, while Robert Brown tied a season high with 38 minutes.

“I’ve got to play with what I’ve got, and they’ve (the Tar Heels) got to play with what they’ve got,” Johnson said. “It is what it is. We’ve got to find a way to finish games, regardless of fatigue and regardless of foul trouble. We’ve got find a way to finish the game.”

Unfortunately, Tech hasn’t been able to finish games. The Hokies trailed by five points against BC with 4:29 left. Against Clemson, the game was tied at 60 with 3:21 remaining. Against Miami, Tech trailed 60-56 with 2:14 left. And of course, against the Tar Heels, the Hokies possessed the ball with a chance to win in regulation.

All four games, though, ended in defeat.

“Extremely frustrating,” said Eddie, who scored 15 points against the Tar Heels. “It’s really frustrating to be so close. We’re just a couple of plays away from getting that win. It’s just really frustrating.

“We’ve just got to keep working, keep clawing away and keep fighting. You can’t get down. You’ve just got to keep playing.”

Johnson likes the attitude of his team despite the struggles. He continues to applaud their work ethic, and he says they possess too much pride to give in to any team.

He also sees a lot of positives with their play. For example, they struggled with defense and rebounding earlier in the season, but they held North Carolina to 37.5 percent shooting from the floor, and they only got out-rebounded by four to Miami and nine to Clemson.

“I’m encouraged with the way these guys are still fighting,” Johnson said. “Our 2-3 zone is getting better. Our rebounding is getting better. We’re limiting guys’ second shots. Our offensive execution is getting better. We’re starting to get more guys coming around and contributing.

“So I’m pleased with the overall maturation of this team. I’d just like to see it show up in the win-loss column. That’s the tough thing right now.”

Raines making progress

For the most part this season, Raines, Tech’s center, has been splitting time with redshirt freshman Joey van Zegeren, and thus, his numbers haven’t been what many expected.

But Raines showed signs of reverting back to the way he played at the end of last season when he averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in the final eight games. He scored 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the floor and grabbed eight rebounds against Miami’s huge front line – the Hurricanes are the best team in the league.

Then, Raines followed that performance with a 12-point, six-rebound performance against North Carolina. He made 6 of 11 from the floor in that one.

The two games marked the first time this season that Raines has scored in double figures in back-to-back games. For the season, heading into a home game against Maryland, he had scored in double figures in six games.

“I think it’s just a matter of being confident and being focused,” Raines said. “I was finishing. The plays were going down for me, and I was making shots.”

Green torches ACC best

The Hokies played Virginia, Clemson and Miami in back-to-back-to-back games, and all three teams resided at the top of the ACC in scoring defense.

But Green, who was the nation’s leading scorer going into those games, got the best of all three, even though the Hokies came out on the losing end of each game. He scored a career-high 35 points against Virginia on 11 of 18 shooting (3 of 6 from beyond the arc). Then he scored 25 points in the road loss at Clemson, and he closed the three-game outburst with a 30-point performance against the Hurricanes. He hit 11 of 20 from the floor against Miami, including a career-high five 3-pointers.

“I thought going to Virginia Tech, you know, he would have a very nice career, but he’s developed into the leading scorer in the country. That’s a whole ’nother level,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who recruited Green when he was the head coach at George Mason. “When everybody’s attention is on you, you’re going to get every defender’s best effort. You’re getting every team’s best defender on the perimeter. It is very, very hard to continue to produce the way he has. It’s a remarkable accomplishment by him.”

For much of the season, Green has led the nation in scoring. Even after being held to 16 points against North Carolina on 7 of 21 shooting, he still was averaging 25 points per game.

“This is the most fun I’ve had in my four years,” Green said. “And I know we’re losing and it’s probably crazy for me to say that, but I’m having a great time with these guys in my last year. These guys are getting me open, and I’m just making shots and I’m having a great time. I wouldn’t trade this for the world.”

Brown unlikely hero against Wake Forest

Mired in a terrible shooting slump, Brown found himself with the basketball and the shot clock running down in the waning moments of the Hokies’ game against Wake Forest on Jan. 19.

Undaunted, he drove into the lane and hit a short jumper with 12.3 seconds remaining. That shot was the difference in a 66-65 Tech win over the Demon Deacons, who missed two shots in the final few seconds before Eddie got the rebound as time expired.

“Coach (James Johnson) always tells me to be aggressive regardless of whether I’m hitting or not,” Brown said. “It was an open shot that he let me take, and I took the first good shot we had. They trapped Erick (Green), so the lane was open. I just made a play.”

Brown, a sophomore from Clermont, Fla., had missed nine of his previous 10 shot attempts in the game. He finished 2 of 11 from the floor, with four points.

Brown came into the game having made just seven of his past 36 attempts before the game winner.

“It felt good to step and make a play for my teammates,” Brown said. “Getting this win was a big win for us in the ACC and for our confidence. We’ve got two in a row (ACC wins), and we’re going to try to keep building on that.”

Brown picked up his play following the Wake Forest win. He went scoreless against Virginia, but scored nine points against Clemson, eight against Miami and 10 against the Tar Heels.