Despite a sleepy second half from the Hokies, Virginia Tech was able to take down VMI 89-68. Justin Robinson led the scoring with 18 for the Hokies, but P.J. Horne, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Isaiah Wilkins were all in double figures as well.
“Getting stops on defense really helped our offense,” said Horne, who had a season high 12 points on 6-6 shooting.
In the first half, Virginia Tech did in fact play great defense. They held VMI to 21 points on 29.6 percent shooting, which allowed them to take a 42-21 lead into halftime. The Hokies played well on offense in the first half also, including a 25-8 run to close out the frame.
“We were trying to get to the basket, and then getting into the paint,” said Alexander-Walker of the Hokies’ success in the first half. “We knew they weren’t as good in long closeouts, so we could get them to all collapse in the paint and then kick it out to our shooters.”
Virginia Tech kept up the offensive pressure at the beginning of the second half. They opened on a 14-0 run (which made it 39-8 carrying over from the first half). This gave them a 37 point lead with 11:44 to go.
However, the Keydets were not going to go down without a fight. In the next four minutes, they trimmed the lead by 10. The Hokies began to look a little disinterested, and VMI was capitalizing.
“We just have to make sure we’re doing our job, staying in our lane, and staying locked in throughout the whole forty minutes, not pieces of it,” said Alexander-Walker.
While that full-game mentality was certainly present in the Hokies’ game on Saturday, tonight was a different story. VMI continued to score fairly easily for about four more minutes, and with 4:32 to go, they had cut the lead to 19.
The Hokies finally woke up a little bit after the under four minute media timeout. Tech held VMI to only nine points in that last 3:36, but they only scored 9 points themselves. When all was said and done, the Hokies gave up 47 points in the second half.
Despite the fact that they gave up more than twice the amount of points that they did in the first half, Virginia Tech did not seem overly concerned with their play. Justin Robinson said this was because they were trying out some new looks.
“We were trying different lineups, trying different things on the defensive end that some of us weren’t accustomed to,” said Robinson. “I mean, for the most part, we think we played a good defensive game for 30 minutes.”
Head coach Buzz Williams also alluded to the idea that the Hokies were switching things up a little bit in the later stages of the second half.
“Grouping was messed up on purpose,” said Williams. “Ahmed [Hill] fouled out, so we were playing Ty, PJ, and KJ together. I could have called a timeout, but I was trying to see if they could work through it.”
Williams went on to discuss how the non-conference schedule is a good time to work out some of those kinks. Still, he admits that the Hokies need to be better than they were for that stretch in the second half.
Luckily, Virginia Tech had a good enough first half that they could afford to try some things without it hurting them. In the end, the Hokies tied the Keydets scoring total in the second half, so they won the game by 21.
Key Stat – Virginia Tech Had Just Two Turnovers in the First Half
In the Hokies one loss this season, it was the turnovers that ultimately doomed them down the stretch. Senior Justin Robinson said the team has re-focused on cutting those turnovers down in the past week or so.
“We’re running on treadmills in practice for turnovers,” said Robinson. “We kind of got back to who we were. I think two turnovers [in a half] is the lowest we’ve had since maybe I’ve been here.”
When the Hokies are not turning the ball over, they can be a really dangerous team. That was evident by their dominant first half. When they do start turning the ball over, they play much worse, as evidenced by the end of the second half.
“Turnover rate and offensive rebounding percentage: those are two things that have been and will continue to be what we’re fighting against,” said Williams.
For at least the first half, the Hokies did a good job with the former.
Virginia Tech will play in Cassell again on Sunday. The Hokies take on South Carolina State at 1 p.m. in their last game before a showdown with Washington in Atlantic City.