The Seniors Deliver
By Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 3/8/00

Last week, Ricky Stokes coached the Hokies to victory with a great late-game effort against La Salle. Today, in the absence of his star player, he nearly overcoached his team right into a loss.

With ten minutes to go in this game, I found myself wondering just what the heck Stokes was thinking. Sure, Dennis Mims was suspended, and Rolan Roberts was languishing on the bench with foul trouble, but some little-used Tech backups, players who don't have much game experience this year, were playing major minutes in the place of seniors Andre Ray and Russ Wheeler.

And the Hokies were losing. To Fordham.

A 19-2 run by Fordham during the middle of the first half started with the Hokies holding a 12-5 lead. Roberts was on the bench with two fouls, and while he sat there, Stokes tinkered with a lineup that saw David Whaley, Jon Smith, and Rod Viegas playing for long stretches.

And the Hokies fell apart and fell behind by 10 points. Tech didn't hit a field goal for over ten minutes.

"We were trying to find some life, some juice. There just wasnít a lot there at that point," said assistant Coach Donnie Marsh. "I donít know if those first few baskets came too easy for us or what, but there just wasnít enough life at that point."

Tech made a late 10-2 run to end the first half down 26-24, but then their offensive woes continued in the second half. The Rams held a 46-40 lead with ten minutes to go in this one, and Tech appeared to be dead. For some reason, Andre Ray was on the bench in favor of David Whaley and Rod Viegas, and Jon Smith was still on the floor, too.

In the crunch, I think it's wise to go with guys like Ray and Wheeler, experienced players who are staring down the barrel of the end of their careers and won't take a loss lying down.

More disturbing were Tech radio announcer Bill Roth's descriptions of the Tech coaching staff. I don't want to put words in Roth's mouth, but he mentioned that the Tech coaches were spending most of their time sitting on the bench, while all four of Fordham's coaches were up and about, shouting instructions at their players and "working it," as it were.

Not so for Tech. The Hokies had put on a small run earlier to close the gap to 41-40, but at this point, the ten minute mark, Tech was down 46-40 and showing very few signs of life, from the players on down to the coaches.

Then Stokes finally snapped out of it and put Ray back in. And the cork popped out of the bottle.

Ray started the festivities with a diving-out-of-bounds save back to Wheeler, who laid it in for a 46-42 score. From that point on, Ray, Wheeler, and Dunlop took over and scored 8 of Tech's last 11 points. Rolan Roberts provided a quick spark with a lob to Jon Smith and a steal, but other than that, it was all Ray, Wheeler and Dunlop down the stretch.

"We talked about that in the huddle," Marsh said of Ray's diving save. "We talked about winning plays. Somebody has to step up and make winning plays for you and it may be something that seems insignificant at the time, but you never know."

"That's what seniors do," said Ray of the effort he, Wheeler, and Dunlop put forth.

I spent most of this game waiting for Stokes to stop overcoaching and let his seniors win the game for him, and I almost didn't get my wish. With Mims out and Roberts in foul trouble, I think the key to winning was (as Stokes took thirty minutes to discover) significant floor time from Dunlop, Wheeler, and Ray.

A look at the game stats shows that Ray and Wheeler "only" played 30 and 27 minutes, respectively, while Jon Smith, David Whaley, and Rod Viegas played 15, 13, and 12 minutes, respectively.

Smith played fairly well (2 blocks), and Whaley put up some good numbers (4 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists), but Tech had trouble getting continuity on offense. Stokes substituted liberally and often had two or three of his little-used backups in the game at the same time, which disrupted the offense.

Players like Smith, Whaley, and Viegas may play well in stretches, but it's rarely a good idea to have more than one of them in the game at the same time, because none of them are "go-to" guys, and the resulting struggles on offense often frustrate the team overall, leading to mistakes from other players who don't ordinarily make them.

At tournament time, the Smiths, Whaleys, and Viegas's on your team should be used to spell the seniors and starters for just a few minutes at a pop, not to run the offense. Once the lineup stabilized late in the game and the seniors took over, Tech ran down Fordham and ran them over, finishing with an 11-2 run for the victory.

Sadly, on Thursday, there will probably be no such good fortune for the Hokies, regardless of what the seniors do. It's highly unlikely that the Hokies will be able to knock off the Temple Owls.

It's more likely that come two o'clock Thursday afternoon, Ray, Dunlop, and Wheeler, along with fellow senior Jermaine Kimbrough, will hang up their Tech jerseys for the last time. At least they got in a good effort in this one, and hopefully, Coach Stokes will loosen up and give them a good shot against the Owls.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of HokieCentral.com.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and he contributes a column when time permits.

          

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