Friday night, Virginia Tech took the floor in Cassell Coliseum as a ranked team for the first time since November of 2010. The No. 15 Hokies knocked off Gardner-Webb 87-59 to begin the 2018-19 season 1-0. Buzzketball is on the bench until Nov. 15, when they’ll participate in the Charleston Classic.
The standout for the Hokies was freshman Isaiah Wilkins. Coming off a 16-point performance 5 days ago against Liberty (exhibition), Wilkins didn’t cool off. Wilkins poured in 21 points (7 of 10 shooting, 5 for 7 from beyond the arc), grabbed three rebounds, and committed only one personal foul.
“It was definitely an eye opener,” noted Wilkins. “The pace is much much much different then high school. So trying to adjust to it. It’s more upbeat and better. I like it.”
Buzz Williams explained up until four days ago, it wasn’t even in the cards for Wilkins to see the floor this season.
“Our plan was to redshirt him from the first time that I met him,” said Williams. “If you redshirt, it’s a little bit compliance related, if you’re NCAA eligible, you can participate in the scrimmage and participate in the exhibition if you have one. My conversation with his parents were that I thought that would be a good experience for him. I thought he played well in the scrimmage, and then played even better in the exhibition and then played even better tonight.”
It’s easy to wonder if the decision to play Wilkins, who Williams postulated was the 10th youngest player nationally, was spurred on by Chris Clarke’s indefinite suspension or Landers Nolley’s initial eligibility issue (more on that later).
“No, I just think it was his rate of growth/improvement was drastically different than I anticipated,” explained Williams. “10 individual workouts, I think we had 9 boot camp sessions. [Losing] 22 pounds in 6 weeks is really impressive. I knew he was smart, I didn’t think his body would change that quickly. He’s just kept going. Thus far, I’m very impressed.”
Moving on. To the naked eye, an 87-59 victory seems fine. But for Williams and his coaching style, there was nothing good about tonight’s performance, especially on defense.
“I thought it was really bad,” said Williams. “61 percent of the time they got to the paint, and they shot 55 percent off of those paint touches. The defensive changes were predicated on not allowing the ball to get to the paint. I thought that we really struggled in that regard. In essence, the entire roster played with some level of foul trouble. I thought that contributed to it. But the foul trouble was a byproduct of allowing the ball to get to the paint.”
The Hokies don’t have much time to dwell on what was deemed a really bad performance by the head man. The Charleston Classic is up next, with teams like Alabama and Purdue in the field.
“I don’t think we’re ready,” said Williams. “This is the only year in our tenure here that the tournament takes place after only one game. I didn’t anticipate we would play the way that we did tonight. I thought we would play much better. We’ll have to change drastically, prior to Thursday morning.”
Even though the final result was a blowout, with 15:51 remaining in the second half the gap tightened up. Gardner-Webb cut the deficit to 47-43.
With that lead down to just two possessions, the under-16 media timeout happened. Nickeil Alexander-Walker explained what was going through his mind.
“It’s just pride,” explained Alexander-Walker. “How do you want to go out? Taking it personal. Giving it your all. You never want to lose a game that you know you can win. Cause that eats you alive for however many months and years. Just kind of making sure that we take advantage of our situation. And not letting opportunities slip because you are thinking of what’s next or what happened prior to that.”
Following up from the Nolley eligibility issue tease a few paragraphs ago. Williams was as diplomatic about it as he could be. However, the disdain in his voice and in his demeanour for the NCAA was noticeable.
“It’s an initial eligibility thing,” said Williams after a very long pause. “I know there’s some FERPA involved with that. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on it. Probably shouldn’t say anything to get me in trouble. Some of the bureaucracy that goes on in this industry is just disappointing as a person.”
And when asked if he had any idea on the time table for the issue, Williams summed it succinctly.
“That’s why it’s disappointing.”
First Half: Virginia Tech 42–Gardner-Webb 33
15:53, 5-4 VT Virginia Tech is playing sloppy so far. Missed layups, forced passes leading to turnovers, missing open shots. It shouldn’t be 5-4 at the under-16 timeout. At least there’s an answer to who would be the first couple players off the bench with Clarke suspended. Bede and Horne.
13:50, 10-4 VT Nice lefty floater from Alexander-Walker amongst the trees. If that type of play is consistently in the sophomore’s arsenal, he’ll be very dangerous this season.
7:59, 19-8 VT Virginia Tech is on a 16-4 run. It could still be better though. The Hokies have created several fast break opportunities with their defense, but aren’t cashing in on the break. But, Tech’s defense is markedly improved. Helping off the ball, blocking shots, active hands. Hokies fans are happy to see that, I’m sure.
3:36, 34-23 VT Horne commits his third foul. Williams elects to leave him on the floor because Outlaw has three personals as well, and Blackshear Jr. has two. This is the type of issue that the Hokies are going to face all season long.
00.0, 42-33 VT Kabongo came into the game after Horne committed his fourth foul of the first half. That leads me to believe that Nolley is still dealing with eligibility issues.
Second Half: Virginia Tech 87–Gardner-Webb 59
15:51, 47-43 VT Virginia Tech’s defense is no longer playing well. Open three-pointers and easy layups have gotten the Bulldogs back into this game. Blackshear Jr. just committed his third personal foul on the offensive end of the floor. Gardner-Webb will have a chance to cut it to a one-possession game out of the timeout.
13:55, 54-43 VT Everyone, breathe. Less than two minutes later, and Virginia Tech has gone on a quick 7-0 run. Not surprisingly, the run has been spurred on by good defensive play. The Hokies have forced three turnovers during the run. Each turnover has led to a Tech basket.
11:24, 59-45 VT Horne has fouled out. Looks like it’s time to see what this Virginia Tech team does to combat foul trouble to their “big” men. The Hokies have opened up a cushion though, so they’ll have some leeway to figure out the answers to that question.
7:23, 71-46 VT That was a fun sequence. Virginia Tech is on a 24-3 run since the Bulldogs cut the score to 47-43. Wilkins can flat out shoot the ball. He’s 4-4 from beyond the arc, and has 18 points for the game. Not too bad of a debut in maroon and orange.