BLACKSBURG, VA. — Virginia Tech weathered a subpar second half to knock off Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) 75-59 on Wednesday night. It’s their third win in a row and the Hokies are now 7-1 on the season.
“I think the ball is moving better, I think we understand how we want to play,” said Head Coach Buzz Williams. “I think they play for one another. When we are paint-touch priority, before anything else, I think we’re good. When we can get consecutive stops defensively, we’re better.”
Zach LeDay led the Hokies with 23 points on just 7-10 shooting. LeDay was 9-9 from the free throw line and grabbed six rebounds. LeDay also had a sequence of consecutive and-ones in the second half that slowed a UMES run that cut Virginia Tech’s lead to nine with 7:02 remaining.
“We needed it, badly,” said Justin Bibbs. “Thank God he did it, because they were on a big run. We weren’t getting stops, they were hitting all their shots. They were running their plays to perfection.”
Three other Hokies finished in double figures. Justin Robinson scored 12 points, Seth Allen added 11 points and eight assists while Bibbs scored 10.
As usual with a Buzz Williams team, the Hokies held a big advantage in the hustle stats. Virginia Tech grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, turning them into 11 second chance points. The Hokies also scored 17 points off of 15 UMES turnovers and finished with 16 fast break points.
Many of those fast break points came in the first half. The Hawks held their own early on and were tied 9-9 midway through the first half but completely fell apart. Virginia Tech employed a full court press that forced several turnovers and quick baskets. The Hokies went on a 10-0 run after they used the press.
“I think the full-court press got us going more than it hurt them,” Allen said. “It got our legs going into the game.”
Wednesday night was the first time Virginia Tech had used a man-press all season.
“We’re trying to figure out when and where to use that,” Williams said. “I think we have to be careful. We’re only going to play eight guys and I think in some respect, in the frontcourt, it’s healthy but if you stay too spread once it gets in the halfcourt, you give up easy baskets, which we did a lot of that in the second half.”
Virginia Tech continued to dominate the latter portion of the half, outscoring UMES 29-5 in the final 10:15. The Hokies carried a 38-16 lead into the break.
The Hokies jumped out a 25-point lead in the opening minutes of the second period but struggled from there on out. UMES went on a 25-9 run that spanned roughly nine minutes. Virginia Tech led 54-45 with 7:57 left in the game.
During that run, UMES’s Ryan Andino hit four three pointers. Andino would finish 23 points, including seven threes.
“I thought (Andino) played great,” Williams said. “I thought defensively, as a team, we were as bad as we’ve been in the second half.”
The Hawks’ 2-3 zone gave the Hokies fits during that stretch. Virginia Tech turned the ball over six times, many of those coming during the 25-9 run.
“Once we get stagnant, we don’t know what to do because that’s not our game,” Bibbs said. “It just feels weird and awkward. We’re not the team that will pull up and shoot any type of shot. We want to get it to the paint, easy shots, easy layups or open threes.”
LeDay promptly ended the run and gave the Hokies a much-needed boost. LeDay capped off consecutive and-ones to give Virginia Tech a 13-point lead with 6:21 left. The Hokies offense started to get moving again and held off the hot-shooting Hawks, who shot 63 percent from the field in the second half.
“When things are haywire, they’re going to throw the ball to Zach,” Williams said. “Zach wants them to throw the ball to him. He’s going to score, he’s going to get fouled, but he also does a good job of finding the next guy.”
“When I got it, I just wanted to finish strong,” LeDay said. “If I saw somebody open I was going to hit them in the corner but I just wanted to finish strong.”
Virginia Tech has one more game left this week. The Hokies will host Ole Miss on Sunday at noon. It is Tech’s final game vs. a Power 5 school before the ACC schedule starts.
Hamilton in street clothes
Forward Johnny Hamilton did not dress for Wednesday night’s win over UMES. After the game, Williams was quite frank about the reason why.
“He didn’t earn the right to get a uniform,” Williams said.
Hamilton has not played in Virginia Tech’s last four games. He’s registered just 21 minutes this season, scoring 11 points. The Hokies have opted for an eight-man rotation so far this season, with LeDay and freshman Khadim Sy splitting minutes in the frontcourt.