Buzz Williams called this week the most important non-conference week since his arrival at Virginia Tech in 2014.
It started tonight with the Iowa Hawkeyes who entered the ACC-Big 10 Challenge with a 4-2 record. Those two losses came at the hands of Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State in the Cayman Islands. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech entered 5-1 with their lone loss coming to Saint Louis in the 2K Classic semifinals at Madison Square Garden. This game would be their biggest test of the young 2017-18 season for both teams.
Despite both teams having similar records, they don’t have similar styles. Iowa likes to run a slow-tempo offense, and feed it inside before kicking it out to their guards. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech, a smaller-sized team, prides itself in running a fast-paced offense to make up for its typical height difference. Tonight, it worked like a charm as the Hokies won their fourth straight game and exhausted the Hawkeyes in the second half, winning 79-55.
Iowa came out aggressive from the opening tip, forcing Virginia Tech to slow their offense down and play their style of basketball. The Hokies started off 1-5 from behind the arc and 4-20 from the field. VT also losing their big man for the rest of the first half as Kerry Blackshear picked up his second personal foul just three minutes into the game. That allowed Iowa to control the paint, outscoring the Hokies 20-12 in the paint during the first half, while also controlling the boards and scoring 11 second chance points.
Jordan Bohannon was key for Iowa’s first half success, impeding on any Virginia Tech momentum as he continued to answer anything the Hokies did offensively. He was 4-4 from three-point range in the first half and was the difference maker in the game early on.
For Virginia Tech, PJ Horne posted 12 points in the first half and was crucial inside after Blackshear’s second personal foul. Buzz Williams talked postgame about how he felt like Horne was comfortable and played like himself tonight. It was undoubtedly the best performance of the freshman’s young career.
Despite Iowa leading the majority of the 1st half, Tech began to heat up from behind the arc and took a lead late in the half. Iowa regrouped and was able to tied it at 38 at the break.
“I thought PJ kept us in the game offensively in the first half and I thought the reason that it was a tie ball game at halftime was their offensive rebounding,” said Buzz Williams after the game.
The second half was a different half compared to any other this season as Virginia Tech turned in their best defensive half of the season, holding Iowa to just 17 points. They went from shooting 51% in the first to an astounding 18% in the second and only made 7 field goals. Buzz said he felt like his team exhausted them after halftime.
Iowa really felt winded in a stretch of eight minutes as they did not score a basket from the 19:11 mark to the 11:06 mark. Defense has been something Virginia Tech has struggled with at times this season, but they proved how successful it could be in that stretch.
“Everybody bought in and everyone just wanted to get a stop. We knew that we could score anytime we wanted to, so when we stop a team from scoring, I think that’s pretty much the momentum change,” said redshirt junior Ahmed Hill on the scoring drought for Iowa.
The longer this game went, the more Virginia Tech got into a groove offensively. They passed the ball extremely well on the perimeter, got the paint touches they needed, and converted on fast breaks and turnovers. They scored 12 points the entire game off of Hawkeyes miscues.
Another huge contribution in the second half came from Kerry Blackshear after hardly playing in the first half. He tallied 7 points and 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes of play. His efforts contributed to success on both ends of the floor for Virginia Tech. The combo of him and Horne inside had great results.
Ahmed Hill also was key in the 41-point Virginia Tech second half as he tallied 18 points and 7 rebounds. He led the Hokies in the scoring department. He also felt that PJ Horne, who finished with 16 points, was a difference in the first half to the second half.
“We adjusted. First half, they were getting a lot of post touches. So in the second half, we tried to eliminate that, tried to double the post, make them kick it out and shoot contested shots,” said Hill.
This win secured back-to-back win for the Hokies in the ACC-Big 10 challenge after defeating Michigan in Ann Arbor a season ago. VT also helped the ACC improve the score to 6-1 overall in the 2017 series.
For Buzz Williams, he has to be pleased with his team as they picked up their biggest win of the 2017-18 season over a quality Iowa program. There have been a lot of improvements that can already been seen from the first win of the season against Detroit Mercy to tonight.
Virginia Tech will look to build upon this success in their biggest road test of the season so far when they go to Oxford to battle 4-2 Ole Miss. The Rebels lost in Blacksburg a season ago and will seek revenge at home this year.