Virginia Tech defeated Gardner-Webb 87-59 on Friday night to begin the men’s basketball season 1-0. The Bulldogs dropped to 0-2 on the young season.
Like many early season games, the Hokies did some good things and some bad things. They forced a whopping 29 Gardner-Webb turnovers, but had 20 turnovers of their own. Despite the Bulldog turnovers, Buzz Williams was displeased with his team’s defensive performance.
“I thought it was really bad,” Williams said. “61% of the time they [Gardner-Webb] got to the paint and shot 55% off of those paint touches, so the defensive changes were predicated on not allowing the ball to get to the paint, so I thought that we really struggled in that regard.”
Gardner-Webb shot 46.7% from the field, including a 52.2% mark in the first half. The Hokies spent most of their preseason working on team defense, and it was improved in a scrimmage against South Carolina and an exhibition against Liberty, but it did not make the transition to the first regular season game, outside of the forced turnovers. That’s something to keep an eye on in the rest of the season.
The other thing to keep an eye on is foul trouble. Tech’s three post players – Kerry Blackshear, Ty Outlaw and PJ Horne – all got into foul trouble in the first half. In fact, Buzz Williams had to keep Horne on the court with three fouls because Blackshear already had two fouls, and Outlaw also had three. Horne ended up picking up his fourth foul before halftime, and eventually fouled out in just 17 minutes of playing time. The interior foul trouble had a negative effect on the Hokies defensively.
“In essence, the entire roster played with some level of foul trouble, so I thought that was a part of it, but the foul trouble was a by-product of allowing the ball to get to the paint,” Williams said.
The good news is that the Hokies outrebounded Gardner-Webb 33-24 despite the interior foul trouble, and they only allowed four offensive rebounds. The other good news was the play of freshman wing Isaiah Wilkins, who led the team with 21 points. He was 7-of-10 from the field, 5-of-7 from three-point range, and he made both of his free throws. He also had three rebounds, an assist, a steal, and did not commit a turnover in 21 minutes of action.
Wilkins also scored 16 points in the scrimmage against Liberty. Originally designated as a redshirt, Buzz Williams decided this past Monday, just four days before the Gardner-Webb game, that Wilkins would play this season and not redshirt. Part of that decision is likely due to the Chris Clarke situation, but part of it is due to the rapid improvement Wilkins has shown since arriving. He has lost 22 pounds in the last six weeks, and become a much better player as a result.
“I had originally come here to redshirt,” Wilkins, who is a man of few words, said after the game. “But it was time to step up.”
Wilkins credits his weight loss as a big reason for his recent improvement.
“My improvement over the last eight weeks has been crazy,” he said. “I’m discombobulated by how much I’ve improved.”
His head coach also praised him after the game.
“I think the best thing about him so far is that he only does what he can do,” Williams said. “He doesn’t veer out of his lane too much. He bailed us out in the first half at Liberty for sure. And he’s smart and he has a feel for how to play, and I think those two things coupled together allow him to stay in his lane, and in many respects I thought he saved us tonight.”
Nickeil Alexander-Walker also had 21 points for the Hokies. Kerry Blackshear had 14, while Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill added 11 each.
The Hokies will return to action this Thursday when they travel south for the Charleston Classic. Their first game will be at 11:30am on Thursday against Ball State. ESPN2 will televise the game. They’ll play again on Friday and Sunday, though we don’t know who they’ll play as of yet. We’ll have a full preview of the tournament next week.
Also of note: Landers Nolley, the highest-ranked member of the freshman class, did not play because of an NCAA Clearinghouse issue. The Hokies are still awaiting the final decision by the NCAA.
Game Notes from Virginia Tech
The Hokies entered the game ranked 15th in the AP Poll and 17th in the USA Today Coaches poll.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. scored the Hokies’ first points of the season. He finished with 14 points, his 31st career game in double figures.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 21 points, his 17th career double figure scoring game and his fourth 20-plus point game. His five assists sets a new career high.
Justin Robinson scored 11 points, his 57th career game in double figures.
Ahmed Hill scored 11 points, his 51st career game in double figures.
Gardner-Webb committed 29 turnovers, the most by an opponent in the Buzz Williams era.