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January 10, 2014

Season of injuries testing the Hokies

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech coach James Johnson’s squad has been a little inconsistent this season, primarily because injuries have resulted in a lot of lineup shuffling

Tech point guard Devin Wilson had started every game through the first 13 games and dished out no fewer than three assists in every game.

As Virginia Tech entered the meat of the basketball season, starting with a Jan. 7 home game against Syracuse, it had more players visiting the training room than the locker room.

And the roster uncertainty left coach James Johnson exasperated.

“That’s been the most disappointing thing of the year so far,” Johnson said.

Three Tech players were listed as questionable for the Syracuse game – guard Adam Smith (calf), forward C.J. Barksdale (ankle, knee and flu) and forward Marshall Wood (flu). They unfortunately continued a dubious trend for Johnson, who never seems to know who is going to be available from game to game.

Heading into that Syracuse game, Johnson had used nine different starting lineups in 13 games, and nine different players had started games. Only forward Jarell Eddie and point guard Devin Wilson had started every game this season.

The injury parade started with freshman guard Ben Emelogu, who suffered concussion-like symptoms following a loss to Seton Hall and then missed three straight games. Barksdale, who missed the first three games of this season because of a suspension, missed the Miami game because of a knee injury. Against VCU, he sprained an ankle after seven minutes of action. He then tried to return against UNCG, but was ineffective because of the ankle and played just six minutes.

Smith suffered a calf injury in practice before the Winthrop game and missed that game. He re-aggravated it against VCU and missed both the UNCG and Maryland-Eastern Shore games.

Not all of the roster issues have been injury related. Before the season started, the NCAA ruled that freshman guard Malik Mueller had failed to meet initial eligibility requirements, thus forcing him out for the season (he’s taking a redshirt year). Then Marquis Rankin sat out the first half of the season while working through personal issues. He decided to give up basketball shortly after Christmas.

“You come in and you recruit and you have a pretty good recruiting year. You’re thinking about your vision of the way you want to play,” Johnson said. “You think in your second year that you’ll have an opportunity to play that way. Then certain things happen, starting back with Donte Clark [now at UMass after failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements] and Malik Mueller, and C.J. Barksdale was suspended for the first three games. Marquis Rankin has his issues and then on and on with the injuries. That’s been the most frustrating part of this year.

“The guys we have playing have been doing a heckuva job. We’re three or four possessions away from being 11-2. But we can’t look back. We’ve got to move forward. But it’s been frustrating not to have the whole group together.”

Johnson was most worried about Smith’s injury. The redshirt sophomore gives the Hokies some scoring punch (13.1 ppg), and he also serves as the backup point guard behind Wilson. But he hasn’t been the same player since late November, and Johnson hopes the calf injury doesn’t morph into a year-long problem.

“I’m starting to worry about that,” Johnson said. “They [the Tech sports medicine staff] say it’s a tough injury for a little guy like Adam because everything is based on his speed and jumping ability. Jumping and shooting and planting and trying to use quickness … that’s a tough injury for him.”

Tech went into the Syracuse game with an 8-5 record, but had lost three games by a combined five points, including two games by a single point.

But Johnson likes the attitude of his players, especially because they never back down.

“They’ve been great. These young guys are winners,” he said. “They come from winning programs, and they want to win. They approach every game like they’re going to win it. They work hard in practice. They work hard outside of practice to try and get better and to try to put themselves into position to win. These guys want to win.”

Eddie helps Tech snap two-game skid

Eddie scored 17 points to lift the Hokies past Maryland-Eastern Shore 82-66 on Dec. 31, helping the Hokies snap a two-game losing streak.

Tech was coming off back-to-back losses to VCU and UNCG, and in the UNCG game, Eddie made just 1 of 12 from the floor in scoring a season-low four points. But he made his first shot of the game against UMES and hit 5 of 11 for the game. He made 3 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc and all four of his free-throw attempts.

“That was good to see him make his first shot, both for him and for the team,” Johnson said. “That’s sometimes the way he goes. If he can get his first one to go down, that’s good for him. We were able to see a big basket early on.”

Eddie also grabbed nine rebounds, coming a rebound short of his fourth double-double of the season.

The Hokies shot 46.4 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. They also made 22 of 28 from the free-throw line.

Emelogu dished out a career-high nine assists. Also, every player who dressed for the game scored at least a point.

Barksdale trying to get healthy

It has been an up-and-down season for Barksdale. He missed the first three games while serving a suspension. Then he injured a knee in practice and missed the ACC opener against Miami. He sprained his ankle in the Hokies’ loss to VCU and that limited him to just six minutes against UNCG

But against Maryland-Eastern Shore, he got back on the court and looked more like his old self. He came off the bench and scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds in 17 minutes. He made 3 of 6 from the floor, including a 3-pointer, and made both of his free-throw attempts.

He did a great job of getting us going on the glass,” Johnson said. “I was glad to be able to see him come out and give us some minutes and be healthy. He’s still not 100 percent, but he was able to come out and give us some energy, and hopefully, that will carry on down the stretch.”

Wilson matches career high against Maryland-Eastern Shore

Wilson scored 16 points in the Hokies’ victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore. That matched his season high. He also scored 16 in the Hokies’ 87-82 victory over West Virginia on Nov. 12.

Wilson, who had not scored in double figures in seven of the Hokies’ previous eight games, made 4 of 6 from the floor, including a 3-pointer, and he also hit 7 of 8 from the free-throw line. He dished out three assists and grabbed two rebounds.

Heading into ACC play, Wilson had not dished out fewer than three assists in any game this season – a span of 13 games.

Allen returns to Cassell Coliseum

Maryland-Eastern Shore’s head coach is Frankie Allen, who served as an assistant coach at Tech under Charlie Moir and later as the head coach at Tech from 1987-91 after Moir’s resignation. The visit by Allen and his UMES team marked his first to Cassell Coliseum since his days as the Tech coach ended.

Allen, who went 56-61 as the Tech coach, has a difficult job at UMES. His team lost its 24th straight road game and 27th straight game against a nonconference opponent.

But he remained in good spirits following his team’s 16-point loss to the Hokies.

We tried to play them some zone to maybe help their preparation for Syracuse [Tech’s opponent on Jan. 7]," said Allen, who is in his sixth season at UMES. "But our zone is nowhere near what they’re going to see against the Orange."

Wood matches career high against UNCG

Wood tied his career high with 14 points, but that was about the only bright spot in the Hokies’ 55-52 loss to UNCG on Dec. 28 – their first game after the Christmas break.

Wood made just 4 of 13 from the floor, including 2 of 7 from beyond the 3-point arc. He made 4 of 6 from the free-throw line.

Tech frittered away an 11-point lead with 10:06 left in the game. Wood had a chance to tie the game for Tech in the waning moments, but missed a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left to play.

“I thought it was good,” Wood said. “I thought it was going in, but it came up short.

“It’s very disappointing. We came into the game expecting to win, no question. We just let it slip away.”

Tech shot just 36 percent from the floor, and the Hokies also missed 10 free throws in the game.