After seeing his Virginia Tech basketball team play a “lethargic” game in a road loss to Boston College on Saturday, coach Mike Young scoffed at the notion his players might have been simply fatigued following their double-overtime home win over North Carolina three days earlier.
“Oh come on,” Young said. “You think I’m going to let them off the hook with that?”
No, the fatigue card won’t be one the Hokies (14-6, 5-4 ACC) can play with their new coach as they head down the stretch of this season.
Despite a roster loaded with freshmen enduring the grind of an ACC season for the first time, Young said he doesn’t worry about that group wearing down, though he’ll take the same steps most coaches do to try to keep his squad as fresh as possible for the final two months of the year.
Virginia Tech is playing four true or redshirt freshmen at least 20 minutes per game and a fifth just under that. Redshirt freshman Landers Nolley II averages 31.3 minutes, true freshman Nahiem Alleyne is at 27, redshirt freshman Tyrece Radford logs 20.9, true freshman guard Hunter Cattoor plays 21.3 and true freshman Jalen Cone averages 16.4.
“There was a time early in my career that I thought about it, but I’ve played a number of freshmen throughout my career,” said Young, who was the head coach at Wofford for 17 years before taking over the Hokies. “It’s always been my feeling throughout the last 10 years or so, basketball players are basketball players. I’m not buying that there’s a ‘freshman wall.’ Basketball players can withstand that sort of thing and continue to play good ball.”
Saturday at Boston College, Young questioned his team’s “attention to detail” and shot selection and noted “defensive lapses,” a key late “empty possession,” and missed free throws.
Tech had 11 assists and 14 turnovers in the loss.
“When it mattered most, I thought we got our feet stuck,” Young said. “The ball didn’t move. Our players didn’t move.”
Young said he scaled back the contact in practice to a minimal amount once final exams approached before the team’s winter break. He’s shortened practices and carefully monitored the amount of repetitions for players, like junior forward P.J. Horne, who play a lot of minutes.
Young said it’s important to also consider a team’s mental exhaustion.
“I don’t beat them up with film,” he said, noting he trims video sessions down to 15-20 minutes before a practice and 15-20 after this time of year.
All that should be enough to take the “tired team” excuse off the table on game nights, like the one the Hokies faced Tuesday at Miami (10-9, 2-7), the first of two meetings between Tech and the Hurricanes during the final half of the season.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga said he anticipates the kind of offensive movement the Hokies have shown in other games before the Boston College loss.
“They’ve very, very skilled offensive players,” Larranaga said Monday. “So they have the ability not only to shoot the 3 but to drive to the basket, which puts a lot of emphasis on your players’ fundamentals.”
Unlike Tech, where Young is dialing back on practice to keep his players fresh down the stretch, Larranaga has struggled to hold competitive workouts because of injuries. He said guard Chris Lykes (groin), the team’s leading scorer, and guard Kam McGusty (back), third on the team in points, will be game-time decisions Tuesday after missing Saturday’s loss to North Carolina.