Blacksburg, VA — There are certain wins that you don’t fully realize what they mean until a couple months later. Virginia Tech’s win over Ole Miss on Sunday is a perfect example.
The Hokies got their biggest non-conference win of the season as they grinded out a tough 80-75 win over Ole Miss.
“This game was just a fight,” said Zach LeDay, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. “You see my shorts, everything bloody… it was just a fight.”
Ahmed Hill led the Hokies in scoring with 20 points, including some clutch free throws down the stretch. Hill scored six points in the final minute of the game, including four three throws to keep Ole Miss down two possessions.
“I mean this in the right way. I’ve been to where Ahmed grew up,” Tech head coach Buzz Williams said. “He’ll be fine in the toughest situation you can create. I don’t mean that for ball. There’s a lot of players better than Ahmed, I mean that one for his life.”
Chris Clarke finished with 12 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Clarke also was responsible for helping out down low on defense against Ole Miss’ Sebastian Saiz, who finished with 21 points and nine rebounds.
Virginia Tech weathered a less than stellar start to the game, falling down 9-3, but then jumped out to a big lead. The Hokies used hot shooting and good ball movement to capitalize on a rash of Ole Miss turnovers. Virginia Tech went on a 16-2 run to take a 19-11 lead with 13:10 left in the half.
Ole Miss changed the rhythm of the game with their zone defense. The Rebels mixed in a 1-3-1 zone and a 2-3 zone, making it difficult for the Hokies to get the ball inside. Tech’s shooting cooled too. The Hokies started the half 5-7 from behind the arc, but finished the half missing their last nine attempts.
“It was frustrating because you know you can find the open spots, but they were kind of long,” said Justin Bibbs, who was 3-7 from behind the arc. “It was frustrating because we were getting good shots when we were playing man, but they played great defense.”
The Rebels chipped away at the Hokies’ advantage and took a 32-31 lead with two minutes left in the half, but a Seth Allen layup with 35 seconds remaining gave Virginia Tech a 33-32 lead heading into halftime.
Ole Miss stayed in the zone to start the second half but paid the price. Khadim Sy, who played just three minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, made three consecutive baskets inside to break the Rebels’ zone.
“He’s like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America,” Williams said of Sy, who hails from the capital city of Dakar in Senegal. “He’s just happy to be here. I think that’s part of the reason why he’s good. He doesn’t have a lot of bad voices in his head.”
The Hokies took advantage of Ole Miss’ man-to-man defense and found a rhythm offensively. After trading baskets for a few minutes, the Hokies started to get stops and went on an 9-0 run to take an 11-point lead with 10:22 left.
“We’re best when people guard us man-to-man,” LeDay said. “We saw that and knew we were good, now we can just run our plays. We just attacked like it was regular and tried to get to the free throw line.”
The Hokies led 68-54 with 5:04 remaining, but an 11-0 Ole Miss run made it just a three-point game with 3:03 left, 68-65. Tech responded with a sequence that made Cassell Coliseum feel like Lane Stadium. Hill nailed a floater on a broken possession, then threw an outlet pass to LeDay for a dunk that gave the Hokies a 75-70 lead with 42 seconds to play.
“The crowd got into it, all the players got into it,” Bibbs said. “That was really key for us. It started with defense, I think. We finally got a stop.”
“It was big,” LeDay said. “We just wanted to keep the lead and keep getting stops and we knew if we did that and got rebounds, because they’re a really good offensive rebounding team, we knew we would be good.”
“I’ve seen Ahmed shoot that floater like 4,000 times in the gym during his redshirt year,” Williams said. “It’s not necessarily my favorite shot, not by him, just in general, but when you play against guys who are as big as (Saiz), Ahmed probably is not going to score if he takes one more bounce.”
The win puts the Hokies at 8-1 on the season. It also gave the Hokies another out of conference victory, this time against the 30th team in the RPI rankings listed on NCAA.com. This kind of win should matter in March, when the Hokies hope to be selected to the NCAA Tournament.
“I just don’t think good teams are going to go away,” Williams said. “Does that mean we’re a good team because we didn’t go away against Michigan? Only time will tell, but I think if you’re not a good team, then you don’t come back against Michigan.”