Thursday, November 16, 2017

Saint Louis thrives on MSG stage, beats Virginia Tech to reach 2K final

Travis Ford addresses media after Saint Louis' upset of Virginia Tech to reach championship game of 2K Classic. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- The clock leading to tipoff was running down. After a final meeting with his staff, Travis Ford made his way to the locker room to address his Saint Louis team, stopping to exchange pleasantries with a well-wisher.

The short meeting revealed Ford’s concern. While the two-day 2K Classic would provide outstanding competition for his improved club, the task at hand, Virginia Tech, was one weighing on Ford.

“Virginia Tech is so good,” Ford praised. “Maybe in one way, it is good we play them now, because at the end of the year, they will be a team nobody will want to face.”

In the end, the same may be said of Ford’s Billikens, as Saint Louis defeated Virginia Tech by the final of 77-71, advancing to the 2K Classic championship game Friday evening.
Just 44 seconds into the game, Ford called his first timeout. His team committed turnovers on their first two possessions and with the game less than a minute old, Virginia Tech had a three-point lead, far from insurmountable by any means but still indicative of a possible blowout in its formative stages.

Defensively, the Billikens had to locate Ahmed Hill. The Hokies’ redshirt junior guard, given the daylight, knocked down three three-pointers, ending the first half with a team-leading 11 points. In the latter part of the half, Saint Louis did a better job locating Hill and limiting his opportunities.

On the other bench, Virginia Tech had defensive problems of their own. They trailed by three, but coach Buzz Williams could sense Saint Louis had the hot hand. Williams changed defenses, going to a 2-3 zone for a few possessions. The Hokies soon reverted to their regular man-to-man. The main problem, no matter the defense Williams chose, was limiting dribble penetration. The Billiken guards and wings did a good job getting in the interior of the defense and capitalizing. Outside of the first few possessions, Virginia Tech was on its heels.     

“Virginia Tech is a difficult team to prepare for,” Ford said. “I am proud of our team. We sustained the full 40 minutes, we competed. I was really worried about sustaining the full game against them, but we did. We have some new guys and some guys trying to figure it out, but tonight we were able to compete.”

Javon Bess scored 22 points to pace the Billiken scoring. All the redshirt junior swingman wanted to talk about was defense.

“We wanted to slow them down and make them make four or five passes,” he revealed. “Our transition defense was a priority, but every day, we pride ourselves on defense. Our practices are really physical.”

Ford reiterated the idea of stopping Virginia Tech’s transition game.

“I watched their games about three times on tape, and each time I was so impressed on how many layups they were able to get,” he stated. “We wanted to run our offense, and in that way, prevent them from getting in transition.”

For Saint Louis, the championship game is next.

“I told the guys leading up to the tournament this is a big stage, Madison Square Garden, a tournament and now playing for a championship,” Ford recounted, as another big stage awaits in less than 24 hours. “We will be playing for not only our program, but the Atlantic 10 as well.”

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