Virginia Tech upset No. 3 Michigan State 71-66 in the opening round of the Maui Invitational on Monday night. The Hokies improved to 6-0 to start the season, while the Spartans dropped to 3-2 after losing an earlier game this season to Kentucky. Michigan State was ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls.
Mike Young’s Hokies used the same formula they used in their first five wins, playing tough defense and hammering the opposition with a barrage of three-pointers. The Spartans committed 16 turnovers, some forced and others not, and shot only 24-of-59 (40.7%) from the field and 8-of-23 (34.8%) from the three-point line. Meanwhile, Tech turned it over only nine times and shot 10-of-21 (47.6%) from three-point range. The Hokies outscored Michigan State 20-4 in points off turnovers.
Redshirt freshman Landers Nolley scored 22 points for the Hokies, including a pair of huge shots down the stretch when Michigan State was threatening to claim control of the game. Four other Hokies also scored in double figures: PJ Horne (12), Wabissa Bede (11), Nahiem Alleyne (10) and Hunter Cattoor (10). Nolley and Bede combined for Virginia Tech’s last 17 points of the game.
The victory over Michigan State matches Virginia Tech’s best wins over a non-conference opponent, according to David Teel of the Newport News Daily Press. They also beat No. 3 Vanderbilt in 1964, and No. 3 Kentucky in 1962.
Another key to Tech’s victory was the fact that they were able to slow the pace down and not let the Spartans get out in transition. During free throw attempts, the Hokies often had all players with the exception of the free throw shooter on the defensive end of the court to prevent transition baskets.
“The pace was — the only chance we had, the only chance we had,” Mike Young said. “If the thing’s in the 80s, they would blow our doors off. Good pace for us, and I thought [it] went a long way in dictating that and not allowing them to move so fast in transition where they’re elite. I mean, they are really, really good. So hats off to my boys.”
This was a back-and-forth game with neither team leading by more than four points until the 6:01 mark of the second half when Hunter Cattoor nailed a three-pointer to put the Hokies up 54-49. Cattoor’s shot was followed by a layup by Wabissa Bede and a three-pointer from Landers Nolley, and just like that Tech led 59-49 with 4:39 left to play.
At that point in the game Michigan State had been a turnover machine, but with a loss staring them in the faces they dialed in and made a game of it in the final minutes. With two minutes left in the game, Aaron Henry hit a shot in the paint to cut Virginia Tech’s lead 63-61, and it appeared that the older, more experienced Spartans might come back to squeak out a win.
That’s when Landers Nolley hit back-to-back critical shots to re-establish control for his team. First Nolley drove the lane and hit a tough shot between two Michigan State defenders that really impressed ESPN commentator Jay Bilas to put his team back up by four. After a Michigan State three-pointer cut the Hokie lead to 65-64, Nolley responded with a clutch three-pointer of his own from the right wing to put Tech up 68-64 with 49 seconds remaining.
“It was a good play that Coach drew up and I just came off the screen, executed it, it felt good,” Nolley said. “So they just believed in me and I took the shot, I hit it, we celebrated.”
Young deflected the praise back to his young redshirt freshman.
“I got nothing to do with it, come on,” Young said. “He was being kind. He’s a nice kid. That’s a really good player making a big-league play. We thought we could get him behind something, but really good players make really good plays.”
The Spartans did manage to cut the lead to two points on their next possession, but Wabissa Bede made enough free throws down the stretch for the Hokies to hold on.
As big as the season-opening win at Clemson was for the early stages of the Mike Young era, this victory over the preseason No. 1 team in the country now takes center stage.
“I’ve got good players,” Young said. “It comes back to good players. That guy down there (Horne) made at least two, maybe three first half threes. This young man is a special basketball player (Nolley), and an old grizzled veteran up there at the top of the floor that kind of keeps things settled for us, and that would be Wabissa Bede.”
Virginia Tech returns to action on Tuesday night when they face the Dayton Flyers, who hammered Georgia 80-61 on Monday afternoon. Dayton is 4-0 on the season. Tipoff is scheduled for 8pm, and the game will be televised by ESPN.
Game Notes From Virginia Tech
Record and Notables
- Virginia Tech improves to 6-0 on the season and is 1-0 in ACC play.
- Virginia Tech has now started the season off 6-0. This is Tech’s best start to a season since 2012-2013 when the Hokies began the season 7-0.
- This was Tech’s first win over a top-five non-conference team since 1964. Tech defeated No. 3 Vanderbilt on Dec. 12, 1964, in Blacksburg.
- The last win over a ranked non-conference opponent was an 89-83 victory over No. 23/22 Purdue in 2018-2019.
- Tech is now 4-0 in preseason tournament games over the last two seasons. The Hokies went 3-0 and won the Charleston Classic in 2018-2019.
- Five Tech players reach double-figures in scoring, including Landers Nolley (22), Wabissa Bede (11), Nahiem Alleyne (10), P.J. Horne (12) and Hunter Cattoor (10).
- Virginia Tech and Michigan State have previously just played once. The Spartans claimed the lone matchup in the series winning 96-77 in 2013 in Brooklyn, N.Y. inside the Barclays center, with the series now tied at 1-1.
- UP NEXT: The Hokies will face Dayton in the Semifinal of the Maui Invitational Tournament at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday with coverage available through ESPN.
- Virginia Tech used the starting lineup of Wabissa Bede, Tyrece Radford, P.J. Horne, Landers Nolley II, and Nahiem Alleyne. This is the fourth straight game the Hokies have started these five out of the gate which has resulted in four straight wins.
- KEY FIRST HALF RUN: With a little under four minutes remaining in the first half, the Spartans led 25-24 when redshirt freshman Landers Nolley hit a 3-pointer to put Tech up 27-25, quickly followed by a triple from MSU to give them the lead back. Freshman Nahiem Alleyne answered with a three of his own followed by a layup from forward P.J. Horne to give Tech a 32-28 advantage entering the break.
- KEY SECOND HALF RUN: With a little over seven minutes to go in the second half Tech led 51-49. Hunter Cattoor drilled a triple, and Wabissa Bede finished a paint lay-in to push the advantage to 56-49. Landers Nolley capped the 8-0 run with a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 59-49.
- Landers Nolley led Tech in scoring for the fourth game this season with 22 on the game.
- Tech shot 44 percent from the field and 48 percent from behind the arc.
- Landers Nolley hit four 3s against MSU. The forward has now gone 21-for-46 from deep this season. Defensively, Nolley recorded career-highs in steals with three and blocks with two.
- PJ Horne went 5-for-6 from the field and 2-for-2 from behind the arc against the Spartans. Horne grabbed seven rebounds, tying his season-high.
- Nahiem Alleyne scored 11 points versus MSU, which is his fourth double-figures scoring game out of six games this season. Alleyne swiped a career-high two steals on the game.
- Wabissa Bede tallied five assists against Michigan State. Bede now has 45 assists through the first five games of the season. Offensively, Bede posted a season-high 11 points.
- Hunter Cattoor scored 10 points, which is his second double-digit scoring performance in the last three games.