No. 10 Virginia Tech passed its final non-conference test of the season, easily dispatching overmatched Maryland-Eastern Shore 85-40 on Friday night in Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies moved to 11-1 on the season, while the Hawks dropped to 1-13.
Virginia Tech was missing star sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is currently projected as a first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Alexander-Walker has a slight right ankle sprain, and Buzz Williams noted after the game that his status for Tuesday’s ACC opener against Notre Dame is still to be decided.
Even without Alexander-Walker, and with senior point guard Justin Robinson attempting just three shots, the Hokies easily won the game by 45 points. Tech was 29-of-44 (65.9%) from the field and 14-of-26 (53.8%) from three-point range. They had 22 assists on 29 made baskets, and outrebounded Maryland-Eastern Shore 35-17.
Despite the offensive output, it was Virginia Tech’s improved defense that continued to dominate the storyline. The Hawks shot just 29.5% from the field, and the Hokies rank No. 25 in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating. Tech is seventh nationally in the raw defensive efficiency metric.
“Just effort,” sophomore forward PJ Horne said when asked why Tech’s defense has improved. “We put more effort into it. We put more focus in during practice. We take pride in what we do.”
Senior wing Ahmed Hill, who led the team with 20 points on Friday, agreed.
“We know that if we don’t play defense we’re going to lose every night, so in practice that’s kind of all it is, just playing defense.”
Hill was one of four Hokies in double figures. Junior forward Kerry Blackshear had 15 points and six rebounds, sophomore guard Wabissa Bede had 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists replacing Alexander-Walker in the starting lineup, and Horne added 11 points and six rebounds.
Horne has seen more time on the court with Kerry Blackshear as Buzz Williams continues to prepare his team for ACC play.
“It’s good,” Horne said of playing with Blackshear. “I know we’re going to have to use it later on in the season, so get it right right now.”
With non-conference preparation in the rear view mirror, the team looks forward to Tuesday’s ACC opener against Notre Dame.
“I do think that we have answered some questions,” Buzz Williams said. “We have been able to play different personnel groupings, and I think we know and have a comfort level of what we are good at, and I think we are aware of where we need to improve. I think the margin becomes so thin, starting in the morning when we wake up, that the only gap that you can close is through execution. I think we understand that, and now we need to continue to grow within that.”
Ahmed Hill put it more simply.
“I just think we know what we have to do. We’ve got a lot of experience on the team.”
Tech will host Notre Dame on Tuesday, January 1, at 1pm. The game will be televised by ESPNU.
Game Notes from Virginia Tech
The Hokies entered the game ranked 10th in the AP Poll the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker did not play tonight. He sprained his right ankle in practice this week. He will be evaluated in the coming days.
Wabissa Bede scored a career-high 14 points. This is the first time this season he has scored in double figures. He also had a career-high seven rebounds and six assists, playing a career-high 34 minutes.
Ahmed Hill scored 20 points, the ninth time this season he has scored in double figures. This is his third game of 20-or-more points this season. He tied a career-high with six made three-pointers. With his 20 points, Hill passed Dick Sayre and tied Rolan Roberts for 36th place in career scoring at Virginia Tech with 1,169 career points.
Kerry Blackshear Jr., scored 15 points, his 10th game in double figures this season.
PJ Horne scored 11 points. This is his third game in double figures this season. He was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field.
The Hokies have now won a school-record 24 consecutive regular season non-conference home games, topping the old mark of 23 set twice, from 1981-84 and from 2005-2009.
The Hokies made 11-of-16 shots from three-point range in the first half. They finished the night 14-of-26 from behind the arc, for 53.8 percent. The 53.8 percent is their second-best percentage of the season.
The Hokies’ 28-point halftime lead is the largest since leading UMES by 32 points at the half last season.
The Hokies’ 45-point margin of victory is the second-highest of the season, behind the 54-point margin of victory (94-40) over Central Connecticut State on Dec. 1.
Jonathan Kabongo scored a career-best six points, playing a career-best 15 minutes.
The Hokies shot a season-best 65.9 percent from the field. The last time Tech shot better than 65.9 percent from the field was when they shot 68.6 percent in the win over The Citadel last season on Nov. 12, 2017.
The Hokies finished the non-conference schedule 11-1, tying their previous best mark of 2016-17.
Justin Robinson scored eight points and passed Damon Watlington into 31st place in career scoring at Virginia Tech. Robinson now has 1,227 career points.