In the first ACC matchup of the season, Virginia Tech defeated Notre Dame 81-66 to move to 12-1 overall and 1-0 in conference play. The Hokies had 4 players score in double figures led by Kerry Blackshear, Jr. with 21.
Notre Dame made a layup on their first possession, but after that, the Hokies stepped up in a big way on defense. The Hokies allowed just 6 points in the first 4 and a half minutes of game time, and they forced Notre Dame to play with less than 10 on the shot clock multiple times.
“That’s one of our biggest keys this year; we want to go out there and play defense,” said Ahmed Hill. “We make teams shoot long, contested threes, and I think so far it’s been working.”
At the same time, Virginia Tech did not start out too hot on the offensive end themselves. Juwan Durham had three blocks in the first three minutes of the game for Notre Dame, which helped the Irish stay within a possession for a lot of the half.
“He leads the league in blocked shots, and he had three in the first three minutes of the game,” said Hokies head coach Buzz Williams of Durham. “He’s very effective in blocking shots.”
However, the Hokies soon woke up on the offensive end. After Notre Dame tied the game at 13 with 11:33 to go in the half, Virginia Tech went on a 15-2 run in the next 6 minutes of the game. During the run, the Hokies started by hitting some open jumpers, which led to the driving lanes opening up.
“We have the shooters, and everybody was being unselfish,” said Blackshear. “They know if they can score they are going to take those opportunities, but they know if someone is open, we’re going to pass it out.”
But just when it seemed like the Hokies had all the momentum, the Irish came storming back. They closed the half on a 10-0 in the last 4 minutes to cut the lead to 30-28 at halftime.
Virginia Tech knew they needed to come out ready in the second half, and that’s exactly what they did. The Hokies started the half off with three straight traditional three-point plays. Blackshear had two of them, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker had the other.
“It wasn’t like a fire up moment,” said Blackshear of the halftime locker room. “It was that we all came to the realization that we need to stop having lapses like that. [We need to] play together, and aggressively, on offense and defense.”
Virginia Tech again took a 10-point lead at 18:19 of the second half. Once again, Notre Dame fought back. They answered with their own 10-1 run to make it 43-42 with 14:47 to go.
Much of that offense came from Irish guard TJ Gibbs. He was 5-10 from beyond the arc and led Notre Dame with 19 points.
Yet the Hokies were not going to suffer a repeat of last year’s ACC Tournament debacle against the Irish. Ahmed Hill hit back to back threes to push the lead back to seven and fire up the home crowd.
“I didn’t even know the score, honestly,” said Hill. “I just saw I was open and I had room to shoot. You know, thanks to God for letting them go in.”
After that point, Notre Dame never got closer than a 6 point deficit. The Hokies exploded for 22 points in the next 8:41 of the game, led by three triples from Ty Outlaw. That gave them a 71-53 lead with 5:14 left in the game.
Notre Dame tried to crawl back, but they never got within single digits for the remainder of the game. Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw finished a combined 7-11 from three, and the Hokies grabbed the 81-66 victory over the Irish. Ahmed Hill also finished 7-8 from the floor, and the Hokies shot 60% overall for the game.
Key Stat – Hokies led for 36:31
Notre Dame started the game with a 2-0 lead that lasted 37 seconds. After that, they never led again. Virginia Tech dominated with over 36 minutes of game time with the lead, and they only let Notre Dame tie it once in the last 34 minutes.
Despite multiple runs from Notre Dame where they seemingly could not miss from behind the arc, the Hokies never trailed in the second half. Buzz Williams said he attributes that to growth and maturity.
Virginia Tech moves to 12-1 overall and 1-0 in the ACC with this victory. Their next test will come at home this Saturday, as they take on Boston College at noon in Cassell Coliseum.