Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech men's basketball improved their undefeated start to 3-0 Wednesday night, defeating USC Upstate 80-57 in Cassell Coliseum.
Tech’s defense led the way for the third straight game, allowing the Spartans to shoot just 37.7 percent (20-53) from the floor, and 12 percent (3-25) from behind the arc. The Hokies held USC Upstate to 0-15 in the first half from three, which had a huge role in Tech’s success.
“Our defense is everything,” redshirt forward Landers Nolley said postgame. “Our defense helps us go down to the other end and produce good offense. Our offense feeds off our defense - that’s what makes our team flow.”
Tech recorded six blocks and six steals while forcing 13 turnovers against the Spartans in the victory. Unsurprisingly, Tech head coach Mike Young was pleased with the team’s defensive effort.
“I like their want to and their willingness,” Young said. “They’re trying their tails off to do what we ask.”
Young also mentioned the Hokies’ youth on the defensive end, a topic that has been mentioned over and over this season. The inexperience carries over to the other side of the ball as well, though Tech has found success in their youngsters. For the third straight game, a freshman led the Hokies in scoring.
For the second time in three games, that leader was Landers Nolley. The 6’7” forward from Fairburn, Georgia, scored 23 points for the Hokies, his third consecutive game in double figures. He shot 8-14 from the field and 4-7 from behind the arc.
“I thought he [Nolley] practiced exceptionally well over the last two days,” Young said postgame. "His attention to detail and awareness around shoot today was at an all-time high. He was geared up and ready to play.”
However, it take a little bit for Nolley and the Hokies to find their rhythm.
At the under-12 media timeout in the first half, the Hokies trailed 14-11. Tech was being outplayed in the paint and on the boards, so Young sent a message to his team to regain their confidence and energy.
“I told them, ‘There is no fire and brimstone.’” Mike Young said. “It’s the game. It’s not going to be ice cream and rainbows all the time. A team is going to come in here and play well. You’re not going to play particularly well. Some things are going to go against you… Just stay the course.”
The Hokies did exactly that as Tech responded to the deficit with a 27-10 run over the final first half stretch and led 38-24 at halftime.
Led by Nolley’s 14 second half points, Tech never looked back after halftime, shooting 54.8 percent (17-31) from the floor.
Freshman Jalen Cone was the second highest scorer for the Hokies on Wednesday evening with 11 points, his first collegiate game scoring in double figures. The Walkertown, North Carolina native was very efficient, shooting 4 of 5 from the field and making all three of his attempts from behind the arc.
Tech also responded on the boards after that first half timeout. Young mentioned that rebounding was an emphasis in the locker room at halftime after giving up 21 total rebounds in the first half, including eight on the board.
The Hokies responded well, winning the battle on the boards 14-12 in the second half. Tech only allowed two offensive rebounds as well, much to the satisfaction of Young.
“We did a better job in the second half,” Young said. “But, if we expect to win a number of games, needless to say, we’re going to have to do a better job… Eight offensive rebounds against someone in our league will prove to be costly.”
Junior guard Wabissa Bede stuffed the stat sheet in multiple categories on Wednesday evening, dishing out eight assists and scoring seven points. With 24 total assists on the season through three games, his 8.0 average of assists per game is tied for fifth in the country.
“It’s his preparation,” freshman Hunter Cattoor said about his fellow guard. “He does the same thing in practice… watching film, talking to the coaches, making the right reads, and you see it in practice and in games.”
Cattoor had his best shooting performance to date on Wednesday evening, shooting 50 percent (3-6) from three-point range to contribute nine points. He said Bede has helped him see the floor and understand the game better over the first few weeks of the season.
“He’s really helped me slow the game down,” Cattoor said. “Young kids come into the game and it speeds up for them. He breaks it down for me and tells me what he sees in certain spots and it makes it easier for me make those reads.”
The Hokies had contributors from everywhere this game, with Nahiem Alleyne and P.J. Horne each scoring nine points for the Hokies. Horne grabbed four rebounds and Alleyne recorded two, while Alleyne also dished out four assists.
Tyrece Radford, the redshirt freshman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, made his first-ever collegiate start, contributing six points. He also finished with two steals and four rebounds, one block and one assist.
John Ojiako and Isaiah Wilkins came off the bench and added a few points, with Ojiako scoring four and Wilkins scoring two. Wilkins recorded four rebounds and two assists, while Ojiako was fantastic defensively, blocking two shots and recording 2 steals. He also grabbed three boards.
“We played as a group, especially on defense,” Cattoor said. “It wasn’t one person getting beat and if you did get beat, we had help on the backside. We really preach that in our practices, it’s just being a good defensive team.”
On this night, it was the Hokies' defensive effort and three-point shooting that helped them cruise to their third-straight victory to start the season.
The Hokies have two games remaining before traveling to the Maui Invitational – Lehigh and Delaware State. They will return to Cassell Coliseum on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. to face Lehigh with the game being televised on ACC Network Extra.