Buzz Williams and his Virginia Tech basketball team traveled to South Carolina to face the Gamecocks for an exhibition that was “Hoops for Hurricane Relief.” The game raised money for those that were impacted by the storms. Proceeds from the game will go to supporting hurricane relief efforts in Texas, Puerto Rico, and South Florida.
The Hokies looked sharp in the first half and led at the break 36-30. Tech outscored the Gamecocks in the second half as well 50-37 and won the game 86-67. The 19-point margin of victory was the biggest lead the Hokies had throughout the entire game.
For Tech, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a 6’5” freshman from Toronto, shined in his first game as a Hokie. The five-star recruit had 18 points and 5 rebounds in 30 minutes of play and led both teams in scoring. Alexander-Walker was electric on the floor, showing he can score from almost anywhere.
Another big headline was junior guard/forward Chris Clarke, who tore his ACL in his left knee in the Hokies’ win over rival Virginia last year and missed the remaining nine games of the season. Clarke scored five against the Gamecocks in the 15 minutes that he played, but Hokie fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that Clarke received some action this weekend after a very long offseason of rehab.
Alexander-Walker, junior point guard Justin Robinson, redshirt senior point guard Devin Wilson, redshirt junior guard Ahmed Hill, and redshirt sophomore Kerry Blackshear Jr. started the game in Columbia for the Hokies. The five starters combined for 58 of the team’s 86 points in the game.
11 of the 28 points coming off of the bench came from freshman forward P.J. Horne, who made his debut. Redshirt freshman Tyrie Jackson scored 8 points in his debut, while freshman guard Wabissa Bede scored four points.
Virginia Tech shot 29-57 (50.9%) from the floor while South Carolina shot 25-72 (34.7%). The Hokies defeated the Gamecocks by 19 points, but this is not the same South Carolina team that went to the final four and won the East Regional in the NCAA tournament last season.
The Gamecocks started two players against the Hokies that made appearances in the NCAA Tournament last season: junior forward Chris Silva, who started last year for South Carolina, and Hassani Gravett, a redshirt junior guard that saw action in all 35 games last season, playing and scoring in a few of the NCAA tournament games.
The Gamecocks also started David Beatty, a freshman guard out of Philadelphia, graduate senior guard Frank Booker, a transfer from Florida Atlantic University, and Felipe Haase, a freshman forward out of Osorno, Chile.
The Hokies were without senior guard Justin Bibbs for this game who did not play because of an undisclosed injury.
Virginia Tech finished 22-11 overall and 10-8 in the conference last season but Buzz Williams guided the team to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007. The Hokies lost 74-84 to Wisconsin in the first round of the tournament, but it was an accomplishment that the team had not achieved in 10 years. However, I believe that this could become an every-year thing for the Hokies.
The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team opens up their regular season slate at 6pm in Cassell Coliseum on Friday, November 10 against Detroit Mercy. Nickeil Alexander-Walker seems to be a rising star for the Hokies this season, while having Devin Wilson and Kerry Blackshear Jr. back on the roster after missing last season because of football and injuries will provide some depth.
It will be interesting to see who Buzz decides to start and who starts on the bench. Do not be surprised if an impact player such as Justin Bibbs comes off the bench for the Hokies this season. Williams had Seth Allen and Zach LeDay, the team’s top playmakers, come off the bench last year and his system seemed to work.
The other two freshman, Wabissa Bede and P.J. Horne, will have roles coming off the bench and supplying the starters with time to catch their breath. Both of those players, however, can have a big impact on the game and can score points.
Finally, seeing how many minutes Chris Clarke plays at the start of the season will be interesting considering his rehab from his ACL injury last season. Clarke did it all for the Hokies in a few of the games last season and losing his presence hurt the team. Having him back healthy this year will be a significant boost for the Hokies.