In the opening game of the season, Virginia Tech defeated Gardner Webb 87-59. Freshman Isaiah Wilkins impressed in his debut, as he tied Nickeil Alexander-Walker for the team lead in points with 21.
Despite the performance, Wilkins remained humble and gave the glory to God for his performance.
“That was Jesus,” Wilkins said after the game. “That wasn’t me, it was Him moving through me.”
Wilkins was one of the few constants for the Hokies, who had an up down performance on both sides of the ball. The Hokies started the game well on the defensive end and jumped out to 19-6 lead early in the first half. However, that defense quickly faded, and the Hokies began showing an inability to execute on offense.
“I thought it was really bad,” said head coach Buzz Williams of the defense. “Sixty-one percent of the time they got in the paint, and they shot fifty-five percent off of those paint touches. The defensive changes were predicated on not allowing the ball to get the paint, so I thought that we really struggled in that regard.”
Due in part to those struggles and also in part to the offense missing some easy chances, Gardner Webb hung around for the entirety of the first half. That continued into the beginning of the second half, and the Bulldogs cut the lead to 47-43 with 16:05 remaining.
“I think we just didn’t have enough energy tonight, by everybody,” said Wilkins. “Everybody has to buy in on defense.”
Luckily, the Hokies woke up after that Bulldogs’ run. Over the next four minutes, Virginia Tech went on a 24-5 run in which they looked more like the Hokies’ team we were hearing so much about in the preseason.
Another player who really helped orchestrate that run was sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker. In one two minute span during the second half, Alexander-Walker completely took charge, notching two steals, five points, and an assist.
“As the game started, I was a little nervous, but then I just gave it to God,” said Alexander-Walker. “Off the switches, coach talked about the mismatches and not knowing where the tag came from. So I tried to really get to the paint, turn it, get to the free throw line as well, and put pressure on the defense.”
The Hokies held a sizable lead for the rest of the game. The game got a bit chippy towards the end, as two Gardner Webb players were called for Flagrant One fouls. The outcome was never in doubt after that 24-5 run, though, and the Hokies walked away with an 87-59 victory.
Even though Virginia Tech pulled away in the end, Buzz Williams was less than pleased with the overall product that the Hokies put forth.
“I don’t think we’re ready,” Williams said bluntly. “I did not anticipate we would play the way that we did tonight; I thought we would play much better. We’ll have to change drastically prior to Thursday morning.”
The Hokies will face their first big challenge of the season next Thursday. Virginia Tech will begin play in the Charleston Classic against Ball State. It sounds like Williams will have plenty of constructive criticism for the team between now and then.
VT Stat Leaders
- Isaiah Wilkins – 21
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker – 21
- Kerry Blackshear – 14
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker – 6
- Ty Outlaw – 6
- Ahmed Hill – 6
- Justin Robinson – 8
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker – 5
- Wabissa Bede – 3
Key Stat: Virginia Tech Outscores Gardner-Webb 12-4 in Second Chance Points
Virginia Tech was the dominant team on the glass including on the offensive end with 11 offensive rebounds compared to 4 for the Bulldogs. That showed on the scoreboard as well with the Hokies outscoring the Bulldogs 12-4 in second chance points.
While the Hokies have shown promise of improved rebounding before only to struggle in ACC play, any time the Hokies outrebound their opponent and have a significant advantage in second chance points is a major positive no matter past history.