Shorthanded Virginia Tech basketball battling illnesses


Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson has struggled to put a full team on the court for practice this week. (Daniel Lin/AP)

Having a full week between games was supposed to provide Virginia Tech’s limited roster a chance to recuperate. Instead, though, the Hokies might be worse off now than they were last Saturday following an overtime win at Georgia Tech.

Coach James Johnson said Thursday that while sophomore guard Robert Brown is closer to 100 percent after dealing with an illness, three other players have caught a flu bug that has wreaked havoc on Virginia Tech over the last month.

Forwards Cadarian Raines and Joey van Zegeren and guard Marquis Rankin have all missed parts of practice this week, Johnson revealed, and he won’t know until game time whether they will be available for Saturday’s tilt with Wake Forest at Cassell Coliseum. In addition, freshman Marshall Wood is unlikely to return from a broken foot this week even though he has rejoined practice.

“We’ve been just basically like the entire year,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to do what we can do with what we’ve got.”

That will likely mean turning to the 2-3 zone that proved effective at Georgia Tech last week. After allowing 86 or more points during their recent four-game losing streak, the Hokies limited the Yellow Jackets to 36.1 percent shooting and 65 points.

“I think the 2-3 zone is gonna help,” point guard Erick Green said. “I think we’re really starting to practice that more and get better at that and I think it’ll help save some bodies, save energy and keep us out of foul trouble. I think it’ll be a good thing for us.”

Added Johnson: “That definitely is something we’ve got to take a look at. We got the short bench. We’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do to keep these guys in the game and out of foul trouble and not chasing these guys off screens.”

Johnson noted it might be harder to zone Wake Forest since the Demon Deacons feature four players shooting better than 36 percent from three-point range this season. But the focus of Virginia Tech’s scouting report will be slowing down guard C.J. Harris and forward Travis McKie.

In the ACC, only Duke’s Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry are averaging more points per game as a duo than Harris and McKie this season. When Wake Forest defeated the Hokies, 58-55, in Winston Salem, N.C., a year ago, Harris and McKie combined for 25 points, 20 rebounds and five assists. Harris also hit the game-winning three-pointer with 18 seconds left.

“They’re a different team with either one of those guys not on the floor,” Johnson said of Wake Forest, which enters Saturday with wins in five of its past six games.

With teams increasingly developing defenses geared to stop Green, the Hokies are hopeful he won’t be the only one shouldering the scoring load for them. Though Green had a game-high 28 points at Georgia Tech, forwards Jarell Eddie and C.J. Barksdale and Brown combined to score 11 of Virginia Tech’s 15 points in overtime.

Brown, in particular, has been in an extended shooting slump in recent weeks, having hit just 15 of his past 68 shots (22 percent) over the last eight games. Green noted Thursday that “it’s big when he hits shots like that because now everyone doesn’t have to swarm on me and I don’t have to just score. . . . That takes a lot of pressure off myself.”

“A thing I’ve been concerned with this team all year long is getting individuals to play on a consistent basis,” Johnson said.

Mark Giannotto covers high school sports for The Washington Post.

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