When the Charleston Classic bracket was released, most circled a Virginia Tech-Purdue final as not only the best possible game for this tournament, but one of the best possible games in any of the early season tournaments.
Tonight, it lived up to the billing with the Hokies putting together a tremendous second half performance to pick up a signature non-conference win.
Virginia Tech defeated Purdue 89-83 to win the Charleston Classic and improve to earn to 4-0 on the season. The tournament title is the Hokies' first early tournament title under Buzz Williams while the win over a ranked Purdue team is the first non-conference win over a ranked team under Williams.
It was a tale of two halves for the Hokies as Virginia Tech has some defensive struggles while Purdue's excellent ball movement and shooting led them to taking a 44-36 lead at halftime during which the Boilermakers shot 56.7% from the field and 46.7% from beyond the arc.
However, the Hokies came alive with a 54-point second half outburst outscoring Purdue by 15 while shooting an impressive 64.3% from the field and 66.7% from beyond the arc. The Hokies didn't have an extreme run like their 23-2 run against Northeastern but they steadily chipped away with multiple mini-runs while preventing Purdue from claiming too much momentum for long including after Carsen Edwards' powerful dunk with a quick response on the other end.
One of the biggest things for the Hokies was the fact that they only took 6 fewer shots than Purdue with that margin being less than 3 for most of the game before some late fouling by Purdue. Part of that was due to VT only being outrebounded on the offensive glass 11-7 (and keeping it closer for most of the game) while only having 10 turnovers compared to 13 for Purdue.
In addition, the Hokies took advantage of Purdue's turnovers with 19 points off turnovers compared to 8 for the Boilermakers. The Hokies have always thrived on transition opportunities and they took advantage of the multitude of opportunities that they received off of Purdue turnovers while also knowing when to slow down the tempo to find the best shot.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker was the biggest star on a night where the Hokies had a trio of stars as Alexander-Walker had 25 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block while shooting 10-17 from the field and 2-4 from beyond the arc. Throughout the game, Alexander-Walker showed why he has an NBA future making impressive move to the rim after impressive rim while being able to consistently create his own shot, something that NBA scouts always look for.
Because of his impressive weekend in Charleston, Alexander-Walker earned Charleston Classic MVP honors, but he also likely earned a lot more attention from NBA scouts for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, Justin Robinson had his best offensive performance of the season with 23 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds on 7-10 shooting from the field including going 3-5 from three-point range. Robinson also had a very good defensive performance with 3 steals to lead the Hokies. Robinson had a slow start to this game but once he got in rhythm, he showed why he's one of the best point guards in college basketball. With his strong performance in the Charleston Classic, Robinson also received a spot on the all-tournament team alongside Alexander-Walker.
Ahmed Hill was quiet in the first half, but the graduate guard stepped up in the second half scoring 18 of his 23 points in the second half while also having 3 assists and 2 rebounds. While Alexander-Walker and Robinson were the two best players for the Hokies, Hill was a very close third and was arguably the biggest reason why Virginia Tech was able to take the lead during the middle of the second half before holding on to pick up the big win.
One of the most impressive thing about this trio's performance is the fact that Alexander-Walker and Hill played all 40 minutes while Robinson played 39 minutes. For there impressive effort, those three will get multiple days off with their next game coming Saturday against St. Frances out of Pennsylvania.
Kerry Blackshear dealt with foul trouble for most of the game and struggled, but picked up his play in the final 10 minutes of the game finishing with 13 points and 2 rebounds including a solid 7-11 from the free-throw line. Outside of Blackshear, the Hokies had no one with more than three points as Ty Outlaw had a single 3 and 2 rebounds while PJ Horne had 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal. Wabissa Bede finished with 3 assists and 2 rebounds while Isaiah Wilkins had 1 assist in 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, Carsen Edwards showed why he is an All-American candidate with 26 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal; though he was held to 9-21 shooting from the field including 3-11 from three-point range. Evan Boudreaux was second for Purdue in scoring with 18 points in addition to having 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals while Ryan Cline was the only other Boilermaker in double figures with 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.
With the win, the Hokies are likely to jump into the top 10 but beyond that, Virginia Tech has a realistic road to going undefeated in non-conference play. The Hokies' toughest games are against Washington in Atlantic City and a road trip to a Penn State team that slipped up at DePaul with the Hokies being certain to be favored in every single remaining non-conference game.
The Hokies did this despite the fact that they don't have Landers Nolley still due to a bogus NCAA conspiracy theory about an ACT score that the NCAA saw as being too high despite having no evidence to back their claim up. Combine that with Chris Clarke's indefinite suspension that has hurt the Hokies' depth and their performance over the past four days has been quite impressive and shows how special this team can be.
Virginia Tech may have their best basketball team in program history and though it is only November, the Hokies are giving fans reasons to believe that this team not only should reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but also can dream about a trip to Minneapolis for the Final Four.
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics
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