It wasn't always pretty, but No. 22 Virginia Tech found a way to get it done in a 76-68 victory over Georgia Tech. Ty Outlaw led the Hokies with 20 points and 3 blocks, and Kerry Blackshear Jr. added 16 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds.
"Just wanted to get some guys open," said Blackshear after tying his career high in assists for a game. "When [Outlaw] is hot like that to start the game, you keep feeding him. Nickeil [Alexander-Walker] got going later on, as well."
Between the 16:16 and 13:05 mark, Outlaw hit triples on three of four possessions to give Virginia Tech an 8-point lead. The Hokies also played good defense, and they allowed Georgia Tech to score just 12 points in the first 12:23 of game time.
At the final media timeout of the first half, Virginia Tech was in good shape with an eight point lead. They took their largest lead thus far at 27-16 with 4:44 to go in the half.
That's when things went dry.
Georgia Tech ended the half on a 14-0 run, and the Hokies helped them do it. Virginia Tech missed their final 4 shots of the half, and they turned the ball over 3 times in that 4 and a half minute stretch.
"We knew that four minute stretch, we just wanted to compartmentalize that stretch, throw it out the way, and get going," said Blackshear of the mood in the halftime locker room.
That's exactly what Virginia Tech did when they opened the second half on a 17-6 run. 9 of those points came from Isaiah Wilkins, who had one of the best games of his young career. Along with those nine points, he added 4 crucial rebounds on the offensive end.
"[Isaiah Wilkins] is growing up right in front of us," said Blackshear. "He's working hard every day, playing against us 'old guys' everyday, and he's been big time for our success this season."
Head coach Buzz Williams also sung Wilkins' praises after the game.
"I thought, in many respects, [Wilkins] was the difference between winning and losing," said Williams. "I thought he had 4 or 5 possession-saving plays along with the 4 offensive rebounds."
Yet just when the Hokies stretched the lead back to 9 at 49-40, the Yellow Jackets answered with an 8-0 run of their own. This time, though, Virginia Tech was not caught off guard.
Back-to-back strong moves from Kerry Blackshear helped the Hokies score 4 quick points, and they followed that with yet another Ty Outlaw three pointer. That gave the Hokies an 8-point lead with 7:11 left in the game, and Georgia Tech never pulled closer than 5 for the remainder of the game.
Another player who provided a major spark for the Hokies down the stretch was Alexander-Walker. After a bit of rough start shooting wise, he scored 10 points in the final 6 minutes to help secure the win. He finished the night with 16 points, 7 assists, and 2 steals.
"I'm just thankful that God's given me this opportunity," said Alexander-Walker. "Playing in something like that and seeing the crowd get loud kind of takes me back to being a kid when I used to watch other guys play. It was fun to be a part of that environment, and I'm grateful for Hokie Nation and all that they do for us."
For a player who has probably not played up to his own high standards for himself during the past couple of games, it's encouraging to see him get some of that fire back.
In the end, the Hokies captured a 76-68 victory. While head coach Buzz Williams acknowledged that the game was not perfect, he was pleased overall with the team's performance.
"Obviously, when you make shots, it looks better," said Williams of this performance compared to the earlier game at Georgia Tech. "In the second half, I think the 20 assists on 26 baskets was the difference."
Key Stat - Hokies Score 49 Points in Second Half
After only managing 27 points in the opening half, Virginia Tech scored almost twice that many in the second half. It was by far the best 20 minutes that the offense has played since the injury to Justin Robinson. Much of that was do to good ball movement and communication.
"Everyone played comfortably, and we were being ourselves," said Alexander-Walker. "I think what kind of hurt us was that JRob [Justin Robinson] was out, so everyone was trying to be a little bit of JRob. We've got to be ourselves and know that we're going to make the right play every time down."
In the second half, the Hokies finally seemed to get back to their identity with their scoring breakout.
Additionally, the Hokies had their best night of offensive ball movement since Robinson's injury with 20 assists on 25 made field goals along with only 9 turnovers. The lack of turnovers combined with the improved ball movement that is a bedrock of their offensive identity helped make a big difference especially in the second half.
Virginia Tech will travel to Pittsburgh this Saturday for a clash with the Panthers. While it would be tempting to look forward to a Big Monday matchup with UVA next week, the Hokies are staying focused on one game at a time.
"Pitt is a really good team," said Alexander-Walker. "As of right now, I don't play Virginia until like next year. We're just focusing on Pitt right now."
Photo Credit: Bobby Murray
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