Virginia Tech began the 2017-18 basketball season in style, knocking off Detroit Mercy 111-79 in Cassell Coliseum on Friday night. Five players scored in double figures for the Hokies.
When Nickeil Alexander-Walker signed with the Hokies, he was one of the highest-ranked recruits in program history, ranking as high as No. 21 nationally by ESPN. He lived up to the hype in his collegiate debut, leading the team with 24 points.
Alexander-Walker was also efficient with his shots, making 9-of-14 shots from the field, 4-of-7 from three-point range, and 2-of-3 from the free throw line. He also pulled down four rebounds and had four assists, and he did it in just 24 minutes of action.
“It was an experience to remember, to be sure,” said Alexander-Walker, a freshman from Canada. “Being out there, it was like a dream come true, being able to play in my first ACC game, which I always wanted to do as a kid.”
Alexander-Walker wasn’t the only Virginia Tech player to have a big night. While he led the team scoring, others chipped in. Redshirt-sophomore center Kerry Blackshear finished with 23 points and six rebounds. He was 7-of-10 from the field, made his only three-point attempt, and went 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Ahmed Hill had 19 points and nine rebounds, while senior guard Devin Wilson and freshman forward/center PJ Horne had 10 points each.
As a team, the Hokies shot 42-of-74 (56.8%) from the field, 7-of-21 (33.3%) from three-point range, and 20-of-28 (71.4%) from the free throw line. Every player scored, with the exception of former walk-on Nick Fullard, who only played two minutes.
“We’re just going with the flow, letting the offense come to us,” Alexander-Walker said. “We were taking what the defense was giving us, kept applying pressure, so we weren’t really worried about who was going to score, it was just about getting out and being the best team we could be.”
Chris Clarke, who tore his ACL last February, made his return to the court. In just 18 minutes of action, he finished with nine points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals, and looked very athletic in the process. His condition will continue to be monitored, but his minutes will likely go up as the season moves forward.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure we don’t go too fast, zero to 60,” Buzz Williams said following the game. “So mom, dad, Ernest [Eugene, team trainer], the doctor, myself, Chris, have been very involved in making sure we’re doing what’s right progressively. He didn’t participate, as I told you guys, last Saturday, so that he could play the 15 minutes on Sunday. We were off on Monday, over the last six to eight weeks his appointments have been on Tuesday. On Tuesday he was cleared relative to us continuing to monitor his minutes.”
Virginia Tech dominated this game physically, outrebounding Detroit Mercy 48-32, and scored a whopping 70 points in the paint.
Defensively, it was a bit of a let down from last Sunday’s exhibition game, when the Hokies allowed just 67 points on the road against a South Carolina team that made the Final Four last season. Though Detroit Mercy shot just 37.1% from the field, all of Tech’s players were in agreement after the game that their defense could have and should have been better.
“We need to get better,” Ahmed Hill said. “We gave up almost 80 points. We need to focus in on that a little bit more, I think.”
Still, it was a good opening night for the Hokies, who most experts project to make the NCAA Tournament for the second season in a row. Tech scored the most points they’ve scored in a game since they dropped 113 points on The Citadel last season. Up next for the Hokies is a Sunday night matchup with…The Citadel. Tipoff is scheduled for 7pm in Cassell Coliseum, and the game can be seen online on the ACC Network Extra.
Game Notes from Virginia Tech
Devin Wilson scored the first points of the season for the Hokies, a lay-up six seconds into the season. Wilson scored 10 points and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
The Hokies’ first five baskets were scored by five different players.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 24 points, recording double-figures in his first collegiate game.
Kerry Blackshear Jr., who missed all of last season with a leg injury, scored a career-high 23 points. It marks his 11th career game in double figures.
Ahmed Hill scored 19 points, the 36th time in his Virginia Tech career he has registered double figures in points. His nine rebounds ties his career-high.
P.J. Horne scored 10 points, recording double figures in his collegiate debut.
The Hokies’ 111 points is the most for Tech since a 113-71 win over The Citadel in Cassell Coliseum on Dec. 17, 2016.
The 111 points marks the first time the Hokies opened a regular season with a 100-point performance since a 101-73 win at Hawaii-Hilo in the 1996-97 season and the first time Tech has scored 100 points in a home opener since a 101-65 win over Wofford in 1985. Tech played 10 players and nine scored in the contest.
Besides Alexander-Walker and Horne, Nick Fullard, Wabissa Bede and Tyrie Jackson made their Virginia Tech debuts in the game.
Tech’s four freshmen (Alexander-Walker, Bede, Horne and Jackson) combined for 47 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists. The quartet was 19-37 from the field, for 51.4 percent.