Virginia Tech men’s basketball opened their season with a 80-67 win over Maine on Friday night.
Zach LeDay, who had missed some practice time heading into the season with an undisclosed injury, led the way with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Ahmed Hill added 14 points, Chris Clarke scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Justin Robinson finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.
“I think like any other coach would say after game one that there’s a lot of ways we did good things, and I think there were distinct ways that we can improve,” said Head Coach Buzz Williams.
The Hokies outshot Maine 45.5 percent to 35.8 percent and also outrebounded Maine by eight.
Virginia Tech’s offense was predicated on getting good looks inside or kicking it to open shooters. The Hokies scored 46 of their 80 points in the paint, and though Tech didn’t shoot all that well from behind the arc, they attempted 23 three-pointers, making seven.
Robinson said after the game that the team is trying to avoid taking midrange shots and instead is looking for open shots from deep or pounding the ball inside.
“It’s a shot where the defense kind of wins if you shoot that shot,” Robinson said. “We had a lot of great looks. Not everything fell, but we’re also attacking the paint and giving it to the bigs.”
Virginia Tech didn’t get off to the greatest start. The Hokies traded baskets with Maine early on and were actually tied at 13 with 14:09 left in the first half.
“I just didn’t think the flow or the vibe, or the feel was our pace,” Williams said. “I thought we settled for average shots.”
The Hokies found their pace and proceeded to go on a 13-2 run to take a 26-15 lead with 8:22 left in the half. Tech maintained their advantage and took a 39-29 lead into halftime.
Tech put the game out of reach early in the second half. After Maine cut the lead to just seven, Virginia Tech went on an 18-4 run, with eight of those points coming from LeDay.
“I just focused on playing hard, for real,” LeDay said. “It wasn’t my best game, it wasn’t our best game, but we’re going to get back to the drawing board and just get in, watch film and get better.”
After that run, Maine could never really close the gap until the closing minutes. Virginia Tech went on a 7-0 run and a 10-3 run later in the half to balloon the lead to 80-55 with a little over three minutes left, putting the game on ice.
“You have to have an insatiable desire to get better, and I think that we’re not there yet,” Williams said. “We were up 25 with three minutes left and won the game by 13, so we haven’t reached that level of maturity that our desire is insatiable to get better.”
The game was perhaps more important for a few players than others. Both Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw played in their first games since sitting out the entirety of last season. Freshman forward Khadim Sy started in his first career game, scoring six points, grabbing four rebounds and blocking three shots in just 15 minutes.
Williams said the coaching staff is still figuring out how to use all of the players efficiently in different lineups and situations.
“We have to figure out the best ways to utilize those guys to their strengths,” Williams said. “Not just (Hill) and Ty, but all of the different combinations we can play. I think we have switchable guys on both ends of the floor, but I think we need some more game reps to figure out how to play to their strengths the best.”
The win was a much better start for Virginia Tech than last season, when the Hokies dropped a heartbreaker to Alabama State 85-82.
“We learned from last year,”Robinson said. “It was a tough loss. When the buzzer sounded last year, it felt surreal, nobody thought it was real. The week of practice was bad, something you don’t want to go through. This year, we kind of built off of that and kind of realized first games don’t seem that important but they can hurt you in the long run. We just tried to build off of that tonight.”
“It was really big for us,” LeDay said. “We wanted to start off the year really good. We wanted to just come out playing hard. We wanted to show our identity as a team, but we’ve got to just keep getting better every game every day.”
After the game, Williams thanked the athletic department and the fanbase for their support of the program. Friday’s game vs. Maine was an official sellout and though there were some empty seats in Cassell Coliseum, the people who showed up made it quite loud and raucous.
“Our guys can’t articulate it, they don’t have to, but it means a lot to them and it says a lot about the groundswell of our program and the direction that we’re trying to go in,” Williams said.
Virginia Tech will take on High Point on Tuesday night inside Cassell Coliseum. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.