Virginia Tech closed out the non-conference portion of their schedule Wednesday night with an 87-70 win over Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC). The Hokies were led in scoring and rebounding by Chris Clarke, who registered a career-high 22 points and added 12 rebounds.
Virginia Tech is now 11-1, their best out of conference record since the Hokies went 13-1 in 2009-10. That year, Virginia Tech went 10-6 in the ACC and finished 23-7 overall, but they were not invited to the NCAA Tournament after losing to Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
The Hokies didn’t play particularly well offensively for much of the first half against the UMBC Retrievers, committing nine first-half turnovers and leading just 31-23 with 5:20 to go in the half. But the Hokies closed the half on a 9-4 run to take a 40-27 lead at half time after a three-pointer by Seth Allen with 25 seconds to go.
Tech played much better offensively in the second half, rolling up 47 points while making 6 of their first 9 three-pointers after intermission. The Hokies’ final three-pointer of the game came from Allen with 8:15 to go and staked Virginia Tech to a 73-50 lead. But what the Hokies gained on the offensive end in the second half, they lost on the defensive end, giving up 40 second half points as UMBC outscored Tech 20-14 down the stretch for the final 87-70 margin.
Nonetheless, despite Tech’s occasional lapses, UMBC never seriously threatened the Hokies. The Retrievers, out of the America East Conference and coached by long-time Virginia Tech assistant Ryan Odom (who coached at Tech under Seth Greenberg from 2003-2010), entered the game with a 9-3 record and an RPI rating of 225.
UMBC in particular didn’t have an answer for Clarke, who repeatedly slashed his way into the lane on his way to a 9-of-12 shooting night. Clarke’s 22 points easily eclipsed his previous career high of 17 set against Charleston Southern just one game ago. Clarke was joined in double figures by Ahmed Hill (18 points), Seth Allen (17), Zach LeDay (14), and Justin Robinson (12). LeDay added 9 rebounds, a team-high 4 assists (with Seth Allen) and 3 blocks.
Justin Robinson struggled with turnovers, committing 7 of the Hokies’ 14 turnovers for the game, but his shot returned, as he hit 4 of 6 from three-point range. Allen made 4-of-7 three pointers and Hill hit 3-of-8, as the Hokies made 11 of their first 22 from beyond the arc before missing their last 6 to end up 11-of-28.
Justin Bibbs, tasked with defending UMBC star Jairus Lyles on the perimeter, did fairly well defensively, holding Lyles to 8-of-19 shooting (42%). But it took its toll on the offensive end, as Bibbs made just 1-of-7 shots, including 0-3 from three point range in 21 minutes.
The Hokies now face a big step up in competition, taking on #5 Duke (12-1) in Cassell Coliseum Saturday (December 31st) at noon. The game is a sellout and will be televised on ESPN2.