Blacksburg, VA - On Senior Day, the Hokies sent four seniors out in style with a victory over A-10 West Champion Dayton, a team that had very little to play for -- and played like it.
Tech got yet another dominating performance from junior forward Rolan Roberts, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds. It was Roberts' second straight double-double, the third time in the last four games that he has led the Hokies in scoring, and the third time in a row that he has led them in rebounding.
Tech got off to a good start, breaking out to an 11-3 lead, but a 14-2 run by Dayton that included three straight three-pointers put the Flyers up 17-13 with just under ten minutes to go in the half.
It was a lead that Dayton would not relinquish until the second half. The Flyers took a 28-23 lead late in the first half, and then Tech went on a 21-2 run that spanned half time. By the time it was over, the Hokies led 44-30 with 9:40 to go in the game, and Dayton was left wondering what hit them.
"I thought in the second half that the game just needed some energy," Tech coach Ricky Stokes said. "I thought our guys did a great job."
Truth be told, Tech should have led by much more than just 14 points at that time. Dayton had a 28-26 half time lead but put on an incredibly inept display of basketball to open the second half. The Flyers repeatedly turned the ball over against Tech's zone press, and the Hokies turned the mishaps into 12 points in the first three minutes of the half to take a 38-28 lead with 17:03 to go.
From that point on, the Hokies dominated the game but couldn't seem to put the ball in the basket. Tech had a number of shots go down the basket and kick back out, including a spectacular lob pass from Roberts to Dennis Mims where Mims muffed the dunk. Tech shot just 38% (23-60) from the field, and the difficulty extended to free-throw shooting, as the Hokies hit only 14-24 free throws for 58%.
But despite all this, Tech was able to win the game easily, primarily because the Hokies had a season-low 8 turnovers and because ... well, Dayton stunk in this game. The Flyers scored just 2 points in the first ten minutes of the second half.
Coming in, Dayton was 21-6 and had clinched their seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, so they didn't have much to play for, other than the fact that a loss to Virginia Tech won't look good to the NCAA Tournament seeding committee a week from now.
That didn't stop the Flyers from playing with very little motivation or skill. For Dayton, the ineptitude boiled down to three key stats:
During Tech's run to start the second half, the Flyers committed 6 team fouls in the first four minutes of the half, which put the Hokies in the bonus early and made Dayton passive on the defensive end. For the game, Dayton's Tony Stanley shot 3-10 and had just 2 points with five minutes remaining in the contest.
Still, Dayton was able to close the gap to 56-50 with 1:45 to go on a three-pointer by Stanley, and then Stanley stole the inbounds pass and launched a trey that would have made it a one-possession game.
The shot missed harmlessly, like most of Dayton's shots on the day, and the danger had passed. Tech made 6 of 8 free throws down the stretch and got a steal and lay-in from Roberts along the way to hold the Flyers off.
In addition to the 18 points by Roberts, the Hokies got 14 from Brendan Dunlop and 10 each from Dennis Mims and Brian Chase, who had two second-half three-pointers. The diminutive Chase was second on the Hokies in rebounding with 7 boards to Roberts' 13.
For the Hokies, it was a sweet way to end the home careers of Brendan Dunlop, Andre Ray, Russ Wheeler, and Jermaine Kimbrough. The four seniors started and carried Tech to an 8-3 lead at the first media timeout with 14:58 to go.
Ray had a typical Andre Ray game, shutting down Stanley defensively and registering 8 points, including a breakaway dunk. Wheeler had 4 points and Kimbrough didn't score, narrowly missing a three-pointer in his six minutes of playing time.
The Hokies have beaten Dayton 7 out of the last 10 times they have played, but had lost earlier this year in Ohio. "We looked at the tape of that game, and we thought if we did a better job of executing and a better job of rebounding that we had a decent shot of beating them at home," Stokes said. Tech outrebounded the Flyers 41-38 and held them to 10 offensive rebounds.
The Hokies have four days to enjoy this one. They tip off Atlantic 10 Tournament play Wednesday at noon against Fordham, a team they beat easily at home on January 19th, 82-61. That was the final game in a three-game winning streak, and for the Hokies, it was their last time with consecutive victories, until today.
"I told the guys to just enjoy this one for a day," Stokes said, "and then we've got to get back to work and get ready for the tournament."