Virginia Tech ran away from Coppin State in its season-opening win on Monday night in Cassell Coliseum, 100-55, eclipsing the century mark for the first time since 2019.
“I’m driving over here tonight, I’m scared out of my mind,” Tech head coach Mike Young said after the win. “Now, I’m always nervous for the first one. Don’t have any film and don’t know exactly what you’re going to see. Are they going to play this, are they going to play this? But a good first step.”
The Hokies (1-0) started 5-of-16 from the floor before heading up, hitting seven consecutive shots and extending the lead from nine points to 24. Though the Eagles (0-1) hung around for about 10 minutes, back-to-back 3-pointers from Sean Pedulla and Tyler Nickel started a 22-5 run over five-and-a-half minutes that opened the flood gates.
From there, Tech cruised. Five players scored in double figures, led by Pedulla’s first career double-double of 15 points and 10 assists. Moreover, he had just two turnovers, and his confidence showed. He was 5-of-11 from the field, 3-of-7 from deep and added four boards and two steals.
“He’s playing the position,” Young said of Pedulla. “He’s playing the point guard position, he’s distributing. He makes the game easier for others. He’s a joy to play with, he’s not a lot of fun to play against. He’s done a great job for us throughout the preseason in making it difficult for opposing point guards to get into stuff. Very proud of him.”
Pedulla admitted that he feels like the game is slowing down. It came easier to him on Monday night and has in the preseason. He wasn’t sure what to attribute that to — “I don’t know if it’s from reps or film or just being older,” he said — but he’s doing the right things. Now a third-year guy, making the right plays and reads seemed to come with less effort against Coppin State.
Behind Pedulla’s game-high 15 points was center Lynn Kidd, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, good for his first career double-double. He was a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor; five of his baskets were assisted by Pedulla, including a dunk or two off a pick-and-roll.
Mylyjael Poteat saw 15 minutes backing up Kidd and scored nine points and grabbed three rebounds. Young said he hopes to get between 15 and 20 points out of that center spot, though that duo won’t likely average 23 points per game.
“We need that presence,” Young said of Kidd’s performance. “He’s a talented person and can go left shoulder, he can go right shoulder, he’s got a very nice 15-foot jump shot. He’s a really good foul shooter — he missed three in the first half. We need that.”
Hunter Cattoor (13 points, 3-of-5 FG, 4-of-4 FT), Tyler Nickel (12 points, 4-of-9) and true freshman Brandon Rechsteiner (12 points, 3-of-4 FG, 4-of-4 FT) also scored in bunches. Cattoor also contributed four assists while Rechsteiner had three, and they both had two boards. Nickel grabbed seven rebounds.
In his fifth season, Cattoor is a known commodity. The other two, however, impressed. Rechsteiner looked calm and composed on the ball, even more so than a freshman year Pedulla. He played with a certain kind of swagger, evident when he scored seven points in two minutes in the second half. He distributed the ball well and took advantage of open looks.
“Not to me and not to everyone who’s in this organization,” said Pedulla when asked if Rechsteiner’s performance was surprising. “I could see why it would seem surprising to everyone watching, but when you get to know B-Roc, like how he carries himself, he’s the most confident and cool dude you’ll ever meet.
“I remember my freshman year, I was nervous as all get out playing, but I said, ‘Do you think you’re going to be nervous?’ He was like, ‘No, not at all.’ And it obviously showed. He just played this game confidently and that’s why he’s going to be so good.”
Nickel was one of the first players off Tech’s bench, along with Poteat and Mekhi Long, and played 20 minutes. The North Carolina transfer missed his first shot attempt from long range but got to the free throw line, knocking down two shots, before scoring on a fast break a few minutes later.
It wasn’t until the 9:31 mark in the first half that he nailed his first 3-pointer in a Tech uniform, but he accumulated five rebounds and an assist up to that point. He showed his versatility, giving Young something to think about in terms of the rotation moving forward.
“I think I got in a really good rhythm, and I think that’s easy to do with a team like this that moves the ball the way we do, that moves the way we do, has as many guys that can put pressure on the defense as we do,” Nickel said. “And space the floor the way we do so it’s easy to attack gaps, it’s easy to find open shots, it’s easy to get into your rhythm when everybody’s ready to share.”
Northwestern transfer Robbie Beran and MJ Collins were the other two starters, though they combined for just eight points. Four of Collins’ six came at the foul line. They were a combined 2-of-12, though Beran spent much of the game in foul trouble.
As a result, the Hokies used a number of guys. Rechsteiner played in spurts. Fellow true freshman Jaydon Young saw 14 minutes, scoring eight points and dishing out five assists. Nickel, Poteat and Old Dominion transfer Mekhi Long all got in as well, and though the latter only scored six points, he had four rebounds and three assists to accompany two steals.
The Hokies held the Eagles to 37% from the floor, including a mark of 26% in the first half (7-of-27), and forced 19 turnovers. For comparison, they had just five assists. Tech cut off passing lanes well and brought the backside help in defensive rotations, which led to 10 fast break points. It finished with 30 points off turnovers, too, compared to four for Coppin State. Tech imposed its will.
Yet, the first real test will come on Friday night in Charlotte, N.C. After the women square off with Iowa for a top-10 showdown in the Spectrum Center on Thursday, the Hokie men are the third game in the Hall of Fame Series on Friday, going up against South Carolina (9:30 PM, ACC Network). The event also includes Charlotte-Liberty and Florida-Virginia.
Under second-year head coach Lamont Paris, the Gamecocks, who finished 11-21 (4-14 SEC) last year, won their opener against USC Upstate, 82-53. That should be closer matchup that will force Tech to play differently.
“Let’s do it against South Carolina on Friday,” Young said of Tech’s defensive effort vs. Coppin State. “… Let’s not think we’ve arrived. Coppin is better, Larry [Stewart] is doing a good job, will do a good job with this team, but there are more boxes to check on that end, but so far, so good.”
That game will also provide another glimpse at Tech’s rotation, which Young said could differ as the season moves along. With the versatility of players like Nickel, Long and Beran, plus Cattoor, who handled the ball at times on Monday, Young may be able to mix and match lineups more than previous years.
Friday against the Gamecocks will be a good test in the opening week of the year to see where the Hokies stack up against some better talent and give Young a sense of how players perform on a bigger stage.
“I think it’ll be a work in progress for the foreseeable future,” Young said. “I think what you see Friday may differ considerably from what you’ll consider in December when we begin league play against Louisville. It’ll be different than what you’ll see when we go to Wake Forest on New Year’s Eve. I think it’s going to be one of those years. I feel good about it, but there’s more trial and error, there’s some more to be checked for me and our team.”
Box Score: Virginia Tech 100, Coppin State 55