No. 20 Virginia Tech is coming off a tough loss as it travels to Notre Dame for an ACC matchup on Saturday afternoon, but coach Buzz Williams still found plenty of positives.
Mike Brey's Fighting Irish suffered another in a series of frustrating defeats this week, but their bigger picture isn't nearly as rosy.
How not-so-bad was the Hokies' 64-58 home loss to Virginia on Monday?
By comparison, Virginia Tech (20-6, 9-5 ACC) were drilled 81-59 at Virginia on Jan. 15, so it did get improved play against the Cavaliers and their touted defense.
"I thought, from start to finish, in many respects, we executed as well on both ends of the floor as we ever have," Williams said after the game, noting that of "58 balls that we shot, (only) three of them were bad. Against a team that's as potent as they are defensively, that ratio is very good. The shots that we shot were the shots we wanted to shoot."
Also, Williams' team has taken on a different look since that first meeting against Virginia, because Justin Robinson, the Hokies' second-leading scorer, later went down with a left foot injury and is out indefinitely.
Without him, Virginia Tech has slowed the tempo in order to play a more-grinding style. Forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., a 6-foot-10 junior, has embraced the transition, averaging 19.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists in the six games since Robinson suffered his injury Jan. 30.
"For sure, in the last six games, he at least gives us a chance," Williams said, also crediting the rest of the team for being "accepting of the fact that we need to get the ball to him in different spots in order to help our team."
Blackshear is averaging 14.3 points a game, just below Robinson's 14.4 and guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker's 16.7. Blackshear is leading the team in rebounding at 6.9 per game.
The biggest issue for Notre Dame (13-13, 3-10) has been scoring. In conference play, the Irish have reached 70 points in only two games. Perhaps no game was more typical of that frustration than Tuesday's 75-68 home loss to Wake Forest, another of the ACC's bottom-feeders.
The Irish shot well for most of the first half and led 36-29 with 3:39 left in the first half but didn't score again before intermission.
"The way the game started, you figured you were going to score a little more tonight," Brey said after the game. "But we hit the wall a little bit. We had some great looks again at key times that we couldn't make."
Juniors John Mooney (14.1 points, 10.9 rebounds per game) and T.J. Gibbs (13.9 points) are leading the offense, with sophomore D.J. Harvey adding 10.8 points per game.
The Irish haven't been able to replace the ball-distribution skills of senior Rex Pflueger, who went down with a torn ACL in his left knee in December. He was averaging 4.3 assists a game.
"The reality is we are kind of who we are right now," Brey said, referring to his team's offensive struggles. "Getting over the hump is a big hurdle for any group that is developing. We've shown no signs of being able to do it. That's who we are."
--Field Level Media
Blackshear leads No. 20 Virginia Tech into Notre Dame
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