After a dominant first half, Virginia Tech took their foot of the gas for a little bit and gave Saint Louis a little bit of hope. However, the Hokies were able to prevent the Billikens from cutting their massive halftime lead inside double digits on their way to their first NCAA Tournament win since 2007 and the first NCAA Tournament win under Buzz Williams.
Fourth-seeded Virginia Tech defeated 13th-seeded Saint Louis 66-52 to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies will take on 12 seed Liberty at 7:10pm Sunday night in San Jose with the winner facing the winner of Duke/UCF in the Sweet 16 in Washington D.C.
Virginia Tech played as good of a first half as we’ve seen all season leading 40-18 at the break after dominating on both ends of the floor. On a day where it would have been easy to feel the pressure of being a 4 seed with upsets happening at will in San Jose, the Hokies came out looking at ease and playing an aggressive style that was exactly what the doctor ordered.
In the second half, Saint Louis came out playing like a team with nothing to lose while the Hokies took their pedal off the gas and let the Billikens have some life. However, Virginia Tech showed lots of grit and toughness in making sure that Saint Louis was never able to get the lead under 10 points, continuing to mentally make it seem like a mountain for Saint Louis to climb. While VT did let Saint Louis back early in the half, the Hokies deserve credit for the way they fought through the adversity to prevent Saint Louis from breaking through and making this a game.
Turnovers were a big factor in this game as the Hokies only had 11 turnovers while forcing Saint Louis to have 18 turnovers including 9 steals for the Hokies. That showed on the scoreboard as the Hokies had a 25-13 advantage in points off turnovers, taking advantage of the multitude of extra opportunities the Billikens provided. VT also got it done at the free-throw line going 22-27 (83%) from the line compared to 10-16 (63%) for Saint Louis, something we mentioned could be a major difference maker in this game.
Virginia Tech did not have a great night on the glass with an 11-5 deficit in offensive rebounding but their defense stepped up and limited the second chance points advantage to 9-6. VT also was only 4-10 from three-point range, but that didn’t matter against a Saint Louis team that was 4-23 from beyond the arc.
One disappointing area for Virginia Tech was the fact that the Hokies had only 10 assists, not usually a good sign for the Hokies. If Virginia Tech is going to improve on the offensive end beyond relying on drawing fouls in the second half, the Hokies have to move the basketball better though that should improve now that Justin Robinson has a game under his legs.
Player of the Game: Nickeil Alexander-Walker
While Justin Robinson has received most of the attention, it was Nickeil Alexander-Walker who was by far the best player on the floor in San Jose. The star sophomore had one of his best performances in a Hokie uniform with 20 points on an efficient 8-13 shooting from the field plus 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and only 2 turnovers. With Robinson back, Alexander-Walker looked more like the dominant offensive player he was earlier in the season being able to play more off the ball and pick his moments.
If this is the Alexander-Walker that the Hokies are going to have in the Tournament, there is no doubt that Virginia Tech will play a lot better than even their 4 seed.
Kerry Blackshear may have only been 2-7 from the field, but the redshirt junior big man got to the line a lot and got the job done going 11-12 from the charity stripe on his way to having 15 points. Blackshear did only have 3 rebounds on what wasn’t his best night, but Blackshear was still able to find ways to make a difference.
Justin Robinson had some good and bad moments on his way to having 9 points on 2-7 shooting plus 3 rebounds but only 2 assists and 4 turnovers. However, the biggest thing was the fact that Robinson looked closer to 100% than many likely imagined even if there were times where you could tell he was still not 100% yet.
Ahmed Hill was one of three Hokies in double figures with 10 points on 4-9 shooting from the field. Ty Outlaw led VT on the glass with 7 rebounds along with 7 points on 2-3 shooting. Wabissa Bede had 1 point, 2 assists, and 3 rebounds while sliding into a Devin Wilson-esque defensive sixth man role with Isaiah Wilkins having 2 points in his NCAA Tournament debut and PJ Horne adding a pair of points.