Stellar Defense, Productive Bench Pushes Virginia Tech Over No. 15 Clemson

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Virginia Tech men's basketball
Virginia Tech’s defense stifled Clemson on Wednesday night, giving the Hokies a 65-58 win over the 15th-ranked Tigers. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech basketball is in the middle of reinventing itself. Long gone are the days when the Hokies emphasized offense and running the floor as fast as possible. Instead, Tech is making defense their focus, and that focus helped the Hokies knock off No. 15 Clemson on Wednesday night, 65-58.

The Hokies shot just 34.5 percent from the field, but held Clemson to just 38.6 percent shooting and forced the Tigers into 11 turnovers on their way to the win. The victory gives Virginia Tech their ninth ACC win of the season.

“I say it often, and my heart is scarred by this in such a good way, that it will change the way I coach the rest of my career, however long that is,” head coach Buzz Williams said of the team’s change. “These guys have accepted the change. That’s hard to do at this level. That’s hard to do with teenagers. That’s hard to do with guys who already have very distinct roles established, many of which have had a role similar to what they’ve had for a long period of time.”

The 11 turnovers by Clemson turned into 17 points for the Hokies, which proved critical as both Tech and Clemson failed to find a rhythm offensively. Clemson’s Marcquise Reed scored a game-high 28 points but took 24 shot attempts to get there. Reed hit eight threes by himself in 20 attempts, but the other Tigers combined to make just three three-pointers.

Virginia Tech’s defensive effort ignited the run that put Clemson away. Virginia Tech embarked on a 25-7 run in the second half and took their largest lead of the game with 2:33 left to play, turning a 38-34 deficit into a 59-45 lead. In that run, Virginia Tech got points from almost all their bench players, including Chris Clarke, Tyrie Jackson and Ahmed Hill. In all, Virginia Tech got 19 points from their reserves, while Clemson’s bench failed to score.

“I think it’s very encouraging,” Williams said. “I’m very happy for those guys that you mentioned specifically. I think there’s — I don’t know if residual fits what I’m trying to say — it’s not only good for those guys, but it’s good for those guys that you didn’t mention, because those guys are able to get a drink of water on the bench, and it’s not completely disintegrating.”

Freshman PJ Horne received plenty of praise after the game, as he impressed his teammates with his effort on both ends of the floor. Horne finished the night with nine points and three rebounds, and played 15 minutes in place of Kerry Blackshear Jr.

“He had some energy,” said Justin Robinson, who finished with 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. “He knew that he could bang down low with Elijah (Thomas) because I told him before the game, Elijah’s going to get frustrated if you bang with him. So I think he did that. Came in, ran the floor and got some easy, open looks.”

Devin Wilson Virginia Tech
Devin Wilson’s (11) presence has ignited Virginia Tech’s defensive makeover. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Since Virginia Tech’s home loss to Miami on Feb. 3, the Hokies are 4-1 with wins over two ranked teams. It all goes back to the Hokies’ focus on defense, which has been spurred by Devin Wilson’s insertion into the starting lineup. The fifth-year senior is known as one of the team’s best defenders, and his performance in recent games has fortified Virginia Tech’s defense.

“I wouldn’t say it’s me. I think it’s a collective effort, that everyone is just buying in,” said Wilson, who scored eight points and dished two assists. “We have 12, 13 guys that we have. When everyone buys in, it’s a lot easier to produce on the defensive end. Now, it’s five guys against one guy who has the ball. When we play like that, it’s amazing. You can see it on film, you can see it in the crowd.”

After the game, Williams credited Wilson and the rest of the team for their ability to remake themselves midway through the season.

“We’re forcing teams that are incredibly well-coached into late, contested threes,” Williams said. “Our turnover rate, defensively, has went through the roof. And the paradox is that we value the ball more. We value the ball better.”

Virginia Tech’s overall record now stands at 20-8, and the Hokies are 9-6 in the ACC. Defeating Clemson gives Tech another Quadrant One victory, inching the Hokies closer to their second-straight NCAA Tournament bid. But with Louisville (18-10, 8-7 after an 82-56 loss at Duke) on the horizon this Saturday at 1 p.m. (CBS), Williams is doing his best to focus on getting his team ready to play their second game in four days.

“Yeah, it sounds like such a coach and in many respects, I try to stay away from that every day. We are not trying to think about anything other than the next 24 hours,” Williams said. “And honestly, (Robinson) helped me with that maybe 12-14 days ago. Just being consumed with today. We’ve got a lot to do prior to Saturday at 1, but how we manage the next 24 hours emotionally, physically, mentally, that’s going to impact Saturday.”

Virginia Tech Box Score

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28 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. “And the paradox is that we value the ball more. We value the ball better.”

    Sounds somewhat familiar, i.e. Coach Fuente.

  2. Everyone, please forgive me for the error. I’ve been off my game lately. I put that this game happened on Thursday (today), instead of Wednesday. I apologize for the mistake, and it has since been fixed.

    1. Ricky, all is good. Just check in with the “Chief Energy Officer” and fill that tank back up. Seems to be working well with those guys!!!

  3. Sign of how things have improved. On Louisville’s NCAA tournament resume is listed a Quality Win over the Hokies.
    Sure would be nice to add a quality loss to that resume.

  4. Props to Buzz for reinventing this team over halfway through the season and for the team being receptive to the message. The most evident change has been the focus and results on defense but Buzz has drastically changed the lineups and allocation of minutes as well. VT was basically playing 6-7 players through the first half of the ACC schedule. Starting with the Miami game we have seen significant contributions from, in particular, Horne and Bede. Jackson has played a big role in the past 2 games injecting some energy onto the floor as well.

    There were some pretty bizarre looking lineups on the court at times last night but when VT is playing good defense it gets the starters some rest without the risk of a cold streak offensively quickly turning into a 5 or 10 point run for the other team. I was really impressed by Bede’s on the ball defense last night. I think that kid has star written all over him.

    I’m really excited to see what this team can achieve over the last week and half of the regular season and the upcoming tournaments. They certainly appear to be rounding into form at the right time.

  5. When was the last time you heard VT and “productive bench” in the same sentence? Sure, one guy comes off the bench and plays well but… productive bench? Be still my beating heart.

  6. Sellout crowd midweek? WTF? I didn’t think that was supposed to happen in such a farflung desolated post like Blacksburg. Could it be?…No!….But…if they win the fans will come? Who said that? Will Cassell rock again at 1PM Saturday? How about Monday night vs. the wonderDookies? God! I love this game! I love these Hokies!!

    1. My daughter (VT Class of ’21), said that it was tough to ticket to get and wound up buying the lowest price ticket on StubHub just to get in. She thinks that Louisville and Duke will be out of control,

      I thought it was cool that my daughter had a StubHub account!

  7. Deepest bench I have seen in a long time. Defense allows for a lot of players to be involved, and they are playing at a high level. I do look for them to continue against Louisville with a win on Saturday. Go Hokies!

    1. Yeah, this feels like the deepest team Buzz has had since he’s been here. They’ve successfully avoided the injury bug and only lost one player from the start of the season (Khadim Sy) that could have contributed this year. But in the end, Buzz has 9-10 guys that he feels comfortable with.

  8. Buzz Williams is a brilliant leader and you see that in how he recognizes his players and provides them the opportunity to shine, while making the right moves to put the right players in position to execute their plan. This TEAM is building MO in one of the most critical times of the season and as the article points out so well, has reinvented itself, and we are witnessing one hell of a job by a leader we are blessed to have.

    Thanks Coach for making HOKIE basketball fun. GO HOKIES! Take down those Cardinals and post another statement in how you get it done.

    1. The greatest evidence of how good of a coach Buzz is can easily be seen how we have closed out seasons. Right around the time that half of the fairweaather whiners start saying, “Have we gotten any better?”, “This is a NIT team at best,” “Buzz is just an average coach that canbot get big men”…..at that point when 1/3rd of the fan base has bailed and hates the coach….and when we face insurmountable odds vs an extremely tough ACC schedule….that is when we have a run of games where we beat highly ranked teams and more importantly- we start to peak at the right time. The measure of good coaching is the improvement you see from the start to finish. Great job Buzz and the team. These kids always play hard

      1. I am one of those who thought we were NIT bound after the 2-4 start. Buzz is a great coach but he still can’t recruit big men. And we don’t need 7 footers but how about some 6’8” or so guys? Maybe his new found love for defense (learned the value from our rivals?) will make big men more interested in coming to VT? IDK, just postulating.

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