No. 16/22 Virginia Tech got back on track by defeating Georgia Tech 76-68 in Cassell Coliseum on Wednesday night. The Hokies improved to 19-5 overall and 8-4 in the ACC, while the Yellow Jackets dropped to 11-14 overall and 3-9 in league play.
The second half of Wednesday night’s game was Virginia Tech’s best offensive performance since Justin Robinson was injured two weeks ago at Miami. The Hokies scored 49 points over the final 20 minutes while shooting 59.3% from the field and 50% from three-point range. For the game, Virginia Tech had 20 assists on 25 made baskets, and committed only nine turnovers.
After finishing the Clemson game with no assists and five turnovers, Nickeil Alexander-Walker was much better against Georgia Tech. He had 16 points, seven assists and two steals, while committing only two turnovers. Ty Outlaw led the team with 20 points and was 6-of-12 from three-point range. However, the performance of the night went to Kerry Blackshear, who had 16 points, four steals, and tied his career-high with eight assists while operating out of the high post against Georgia Tech’s zone defense.
“Outlaw was incredible, and Blackshear did a great job finding their guys,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “It’s not always easy against our zone; we’re a very, very good defensive team. Blackshear, like I said, was the MVP tonight for them.”
Nevertheless, things didn’t always come easy for the Hokies. Virginia Tech jumped out to a 27-16 lead with 4:44 remaining on the back of Ahmed Hill three-pointer. At that point they seemed to have things completely under control. That’s when Georgia Tech went on a 14-0 run to close the half, taking a 30-27 lead into the intermission.
The Hokies committed three of their nine turnovers during Georgia Tech’s 14-0 run and missed all four of their shot attempts. Things went from looking very good to somewhat bleak very quickly. However, Virginia Tech got things going again in the second half, showing that their performance late in the first half was just a blip on the radar. A freshman off the bench jumpstarted the rally.
VT regained the lead 36-35 on an Isaiah Wilkins three-pointer with 16:06 remaining in the game. Less than two minutes later he grabbed an offensive rebound, put it back for two points and was fouled, then converted the free throw to make the score 42-36 with 14:44 left. Less than a minute later he nailed another three-pointer to put his team up 47-37. That early second half spark from Wilkins gave the Hokies the fuel they needed to pull ahead. He finished with nine points and six rebounds, including four offensive rebounds, while playing a career-high 28 minutes.
“I thought in many respects he was the difference in winning and losing,” Buzz Williams said. “I thought he had four or five possession-saving plays in addition to the four offensive rebounds. I think he is carrying a burden so heavy that he doesn’t even really know. Partly because he is so young to what has happened. I do think through all of that his character and his work ethic has matured.”
Georgia Tech would rally to cut the lead to one, 48-47, with 8:56 left in the game. However, the Hokies responded with a 12-3 run that was capped by a three-point play the old-fashioned way by Nickiel Alexander-Walker. After a steal by Ty Outlaw, Kerry Blackshear spotted Walker behind the Georgia Tech defense and hit him with a football-style throw. Alexander-Walker made the layup, drew the foul, and converted the free throw to make the score 61-51 with 5:53 remaining, and the Yellow Jackets never seriously threatened after that.
Buzz Williams knew following the game that the win was huge. In fact, he walked into postgame player interviews to congratulate Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kerry Blackshear and Ty Outlaw, which is something he’s never done in the past.
“Ginormous,” Williams said of the win. “I thought today was as big of a game we have played since we have lived here. I guess as a coach you want to be saying those types of things around Valentine’s Day. I think this is probably the fastest we have ever gotten to 19 wins, and the fastest we have gotten to eight wins in the ACC. The margin is invisible, and we have a lot of work to do to try to see if we can win another road game.”
Virginia Tech returns to action on Saturday at Pitt. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30pm, and the game will be televised by RSN. Check your local listings.
Game Notes From Virginia Tech
The Hokies entered the game ranked 22nd in the AP poll and 16th in the USA Today Coaches poll.
Ty Outlaw scored 20 points, the eighth time this season he has scored in double figures and the first time this season he has scored 20-or-more points in a game. He also had a career-high three blocked shot. Outlaw was 6-of-12 from three-point range.
Kerry Blackshear scored 16 points. It is the 17th time this season he has scored in double figures. He also had eight assists, tying his career-high and setting a new high for him in ACC games. His four steals ties his career-high.
Nickeil Alexader-Walker scored 16 points, the 21st time this season he has scored in double figures. He also added seven assists.
PJ Horne returned to action tonight after missing the last six games due to an injury. He played 8+ minutes and had two points and a rebound.
Isaiah Wilkins had nine points and six rebounds. The nine points is a new high for him in ACC games, and he also played 28 minutes, which marked a career-high.
The Hokies had 20 assists on 25 made field goals in the game (80.0 percent). This is the third time this season that Tech has assisted on at least 80.0 percent of its made baskets.
Tech’s 20 assists mark the eighth time this season and the third time in ACC action that the Hokies have recorded at least 20 assists.