Rhode Island 76, Virginia Tech 67
Wednesday, February 10, 1999

Sorry to admit this, but this is the first men's game I've been to in almost two months.  Two months.  Mentally, I went into the tank after the ETSU debacle, and close losses to Wake Forest and WVU because of poor free-throw shooting made me stay there.  That, and the birth of a son on January 11th.

But enough about me.   I went to this game to see two things:

  1. A rejuvenated Hokie team that was playing with more confidence and had racked up impressive wins lately over Dayton on the road and GW at home.
  2. Rhode Island Superman Lamar Odom, whom I had heard called an NBA lottery pick, the best player in the A-10, and a guy who could "start in the NBA, right now."

Out of those two things, I only saw #1, and I only got to see that for one half.

First, lets take the Hokies.  They came out of the gate firing, taking leads of 10-4 and 19-12 over a Rhode Island team that was playing sluggishly, missing shots, and seemed surprised and confused by the fact that Tech was playing (gasp!) a zone defense.

Tech spread the floor on offense, and there was plenty of room to work in the paint.   Rolan Roberts took advantage of it and played well in the first half, and meanwhile, the Hokies limited Odom to just 10 points.  I thought that Tech looked confident not just on offense, but overall.  Coach Hussey would say later that the team came out "in awe" of Rhode Island, but I didn't see it.

Although Rhode Island would take the lead in the first half, the Hokies went into the break shooting 50% (13-26) and leading by two, 31-29.  At that point, I had no complaints.  URI is a big, talented team, and for the Hokies to be in position to win was a good thing, I thought.

I wasn't totally blown away by Odom.  I certainly didn't see where anyone could say with a straight face that he is ready to start in the NBA, although I'll have to admit that he has the attitude down pat.  Odom walked up and down the floor, looking bored, and the only time he came alive was when he had the ball in his hands on offense.   He's talented enough that if he had gone out on the court and "gone after it" for a full 40 minutes, he could have scored 30+ points, instead of the 18 that he ended up with.

But when he had the ball, I'll admit in a heartbeat that he was smooth, and very talented.  Tall (6-10), with excellent body control, soft hands, and a soft shot.   Andre Ray did an excellent job defending him, despite giving up 4-6 inches in height.

Rhode Island just seemed to be sleepwalking to me.  I kept waiting for them to go on a run, and eventually, they would, but they just don't have the same energy they had when Tyson Wheeler was their point guard.  Antonio Reynolds-Dean, in particular, was a big disappointment, fouling out in 24 minutes with just six points.

Then how did the Hokies lose this one?  They made the mistake of coming out for the second half.

In the second stanza, Tech would shoot just 12-40, a far cry from their 13-26 first half numbers, and that would be the primary reason for the loss.  Rolan failed to finish some open shots in the paint, and Dennis Mims in particular seems to have no confidence anymore (unless he's dunking, which he did a couple of times in this game).

In the meantime, URI was hounding Eddie Lucas into a 14-point, 5-15 night.  It wasn't so much that Eddie was missing his shots - he was having trouble even getting shots.  They did a great job chasing him around the court, and Tech did an average jog screening, so Eddie didn't get many open looks.

Add to this 17 offensive rebounds by Rhode Island, and it's not hard to figure out why Tech went down, being outscored by eleven points in the second half.

You could see it the instant the second half started.  Tech had lost their edge, and Rhode Island was getting ready to make their move.  The Hokies hung with the Rams, even after Rhode Island took the lead, and with ten minutes to go, it was a 47-44 ball game, URI in the lead, and Rolan Roberts was at the foul line, preparing to shoot two free throws.

Rolan missed them both, and Rhode Island went on a 9-0 run over a two-minute span to go up by twelve, 56-44.  You could see the air go out of the Hokies at that point, and Rhode Island cruised to the victory after that.

That's a shame, because I saw a Rhode Island team that underwhelmed me, and I felt that the Hokies, if they could have replicated the effort they had Saturday against GW, might have won this game.  Rhode Island poked around the court and played without much emotion, except when they were dunking.  I thought that Jim Harrick, their coach, did a very average job of coaching, but I'll have to also admit that his defensive plan for Eddie Lucas was perhaps the primary reason Tech lost the game.  If Eddie gets into the flow and hits some threes, this game is a lot closer.

I wanted to go to this game not just because I hadn't been to one in a while, but because I was impressed with the way the team had battled back from the long, hard start to their season.  I felt like they hadn't quit, despite losing 7 of 8 at one point.   I still don't think they've quit.

I listened to Rolan Roberts on the radio after the game, and he was quiet, gracious, and well-spoken. Despite the recent rumors from a couple of weeks ago that he might transfer, Rolan remains committed to Tech, and to finishing his career here.  I only wish he was having more fun, and I only wish there were more wins to enjoy.

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