PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Radford has traveled from Dayton to Pittsburgh after the team's "First Four" victory over LIU-Brooklyn. We hear a lot about the big names from Radford including Ed Polite Jr. and Carlik Jones, but the Highlander's bench has solidified and become a strength. In the Highlanders win over LIU-Brooklyn they had 27 points off the bench. Coach Mike Jones said that group was either going to be a strength or a weakness this season and now they're proving their worth.
"The second half of the season it really became a strength. Those guys are good players and they pushed our primary rotation, top five, top eight guys in practice every day and the competition level was high so they really became a strength. So if you look at the stats for the year our bench probably outscored the other bench by hundreds of points," Jones says.
"We always talk about being one on the court so us playing together and when things get tough we're like this(puts fingers together) instead of like this(pulls fingers apart)," said Radford guard Devin Cooper.
While Radford is in their first tournament since 2009, the Hokies are making back-to-back appearances. There are only three players who actually played against Wisconsin in the NCAA last year. Justin Bibbs, Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill. They've learned a lot about playing on the big stage and have spoken to the younger guys about what they have taken away from their experience.
"It's a whole different ball game in the NCAA tournament, lights are bright, everything is more magnified, everything in terms of time-out wise, you sit down a lot and you have a lot of breaks. So you give it your all during the time that you're playing and take a break after," Hokies guard Justin Robinson said.
"You can't get overwhelmed. It was our first time coming here and we didn't know what to expect, we were all young to it the first time being there so it was kind of overwhelming but now we have more poise, we know how to play and what to expect from the fans, what to expect from the long time outs, things like that to just stay mentally locked in," Hokies guard Ahmed Hill said.
"I'm crazy excited, it's something I've always dreamed of something I've always watched, hoping I could be on that stage and now that I'm here it's like, I have to give credit to God, I'm very thankful and to be on the team, I wouldn't want it to be any other way. Everyone is so inviting, so welcoming, making sure I'm enjoying the moment as well as them and telling me to have fun and soak it all in," Hokies freshman guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker said.
The Hokies explained that they are excited about Radford advancing, The two teams spend time with each other in the summer in pickup games to try to stay in shape and work on their games. Radford vs Villanova is scheduled to tip at 6:40 p.m. Thursday with the Hokies and Alabama doing battle at approximately 9:20 p.m.