I don't think anybody expected Virginia Tech to blow out Iowa on Tuesday night. I certainly didn't. Vegas tagged Tech as just 8.5-point favorites despite the friendly confines of Cassell Coliseum. Yet, the Hokies held the Hawkeyes to 17 points in the second half, and remained effective on the offensive end. As a result, Buzzketball turned a close game into a blowout, 79-55.
The porousness of the Hokies' defense was a marked concern prior to the tip. In previous games Tech surrendered easy layups, yielded offensive rebounds in bulk, and overall seemed lackadaisical defending. That all changed against the Hawkeyes.
"The difference in the second half was our defensive rebounding," Buzz Williams said. "Only giving them one shot. I thought we started really really good. I think we played the first 15 minutes [of the second half] without them getting an offensive rebound."
The Hokies' offensive pace didn't suffer all too much from clamping down on defense either. The points were still there, perhaps not at the 102 PPG clip that led the nation, but that was against lesser competition. Against Power Five talent and a defense which ranks top-third in Pomeroy AdjD (No. 118), Virginia Tech shot 44% from the field and 30% from three. A "slow" night, if you can even call it that.
"What's happened with our team, earlier than ever before, is that they're comfortable with who we are," explained Williams. "Five [Justin Robinson] played himself. Chris Clarke was himself. Ahmed, I think, has always been himself. But I think collectively, our team, is starting to realize who we are."
Ahmed Hill expounded on the offensive flow.
"Everybody knows where the shots are coming from," said Hill. "Our pace of the game, you could see they were getting very tired, and we were getting rebounds and pushing the ball. Our pace is what gets us going in transition."
Tech's awareness of its own identity this early in the season is encouraging. The Hokies know they're going to be undersized (Justin Bibbs jokingly responded "You mean always?" when asked postgame about how Tech schemes when they're undersized), but they don't care and have a gameplan that fits their personnel.
Virginia Tech made a statement Tuesday night, and took an important step forward.
Virginia Tech's loss to Saint Louis looks like an early teaching point. Hokies have their edge back. Beat Iowa by 24 in Blacksburg. Impressive.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 29, 2017
My notes from Cassell's press row follow.
First Half, Virginia Tech 38, Iowa 38
17:56 — Hokies force a quick turnover in the halfcourt after showing a frantic half-court press that I haven't seen all season. Nickeil Alexander-Walker stomped his foot in celebration, a rare sign of emotion from the youngster.
16:04 — Justin Bibbs walks into a deep three-pointer, and misses badly. I still haven't seen anything from him that makes me think he's more than a spot-up shooter. His game has improved, I just don't think it's consistent enough.
14:59 — Kerry Blackshear Jr. gets in early foul trouble, exactly what the Hokies don't need. Both of the fouls were iffy, but now we get to see what Virginia Tech is capable of without their lone "true" center on the court.
12:57 — Jordan Bohannon hits a wide open three, seemingly because no defender fought through the screen. That seems to have been a common theme during the previous games this season, and it needs to be fixed if Virginia Tech wants to be competitive in the ACC.
11:48 — Iowa goes to a zone, and Justin Bibbs immediately hits a shot from distance. He's going to be a great zone-buster this season.
9:34 — Chris Clarke hits his first three of the season. If he can reliably add that shot to his arsenal, he's 100% the best player for Virginia Tech.
7:09 — Hokies give up the fourth offensive rebound of the night, leading to yet another easy tip-in. Different night, same story. There's not much the Hokies can do with Blackshear Jr. sitting out, but it's painful to watch.
6:43 — Devin Wilson makes a free throw that literally hit the top of the backboard before dropping in the hoop. It's the second time that's happened tonight. I'm not sure how long the Hokies can keep that type of luck up from the charity stripe.
4:01 — Iowa coach Fran McCaffery gets called for a technical foul. Ahmed Hill dove for the ball, saved it, and P.J. Horne slammed home a dunk. I'm around 94% sure that Hill was out of bounds, which led to McCaffery's frustration. Understandable call, but a big momentum shift for Virginia Tech.
Buzz Williams remarked after the game, "Superman! I hope that's what our program is about, our players represent that. Med has been that way since the day I met him, and that was a huge play."
2:22 — Chris Clarke has been hyper-active on defense. It's reassuring to see as he progress towards full health and mobility.
1:25 — I pointed out in my preview that Bohannon is shooting 50% from deep for Iowa. He's 4 for 4 tonight so far. And they're nowhere close to the arc.
Virginia Tech shouldn't be anywhere close to tied. Iowa shot 51% from the field, compared to only 40% for the Hokies. The Hawkeyes have 10 more rebounds, including 6 offensive boards.
However, Virginia Tech played 15 minutes without Blackshear Jr. and they didn't get completely muscled out of the game. That's a positive. Also, the Hokies are rotating on defense much better than in prior games. It's allowed them to make up for the size disparity. P.J. Horne has also held his own while playing a bunch of minutes.
"I thought P.J. kept us in the game offensively in the first half and I thought the reason that it was a tie ball game at halftime was because of their [Iowa's] offensive rebounding," said Williams after the game.
Tech benefited from a substantial foul differential in the first frame. The Hokies shot 15 free throws, and Iowa had only 4 chances from the charity stripe. Tech can't depend on that gap in the second half.
The Hokies also took care of the ball extremely well, they coughed it up only four times. Along the same line, Tech turned eight Hawkeye giveaways into eight points.
Bohannon is shooting the lights out. He alone could win this game for the Hawkeyes if the Hokies don't adjust.
Second Half, Virginia Tech 79, Iowa 55
19:41 — Blackshear Jr. immediately grabs an offensive rebound and puts it back in. I cannot understate how important he is to the Hokies' offense.
"I think it'll be a common theme ... K.J. had three out of the first five defensive rebounds." Williams said after the game. "We need our guards to do a really good job from a defensive rebound perspective. Our bigs ... those guys are working so hard that they can't get it. So somebody else has to come and get it."
17:30 — Justin Bibbs has been off tonight from deep. He's 1 for 6 from deep and 1 for 8 all together. He's bound to have some off nights, but it's certainly a concern.
15:38 — Hokies are on a 10-0 run, and Bibbs has seven of those points. Everybody is wrong every once and awhile, okay? Iowa called timeout, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker was the first player off the bench and he waved his arms at the crowd. He's not going to be in maroon and orange for a long time, but damn is he a good one.
15:11 — A team timeout followed by a media timeout is dumb. That is all.
14:23 — It's slightly scary how quickly this Hokies squad turned a tied ball game into a 12-point lead. Iowa isn't a defensive powerhouse, but they're still a good team. For Virginia Tech to open the second half with a performance like this, it has to reassure the coaching staff. I know it reassures me.
13:48 — Justin Robinson just dropped a poor Hawkeye on the floor with one of the nastiest crossovers I've ever seen.
12:04 — When Virginia Tech gets going, they are seriously fun to watch. The Hokies are on a 20-to-1 run, and Iowa hasn't made a field goal since the 19:11 mark. Buzz has Virginia Tech playing the style that they excel at. Hustling to loose balls, playing fast and loose on defense, and getting out and running on offense.
"Fast beats big when fast is really fast," proclaimed Williams with a smile on his face after the game. "But fast can only be fast when fast has the ball."
9:14 Alright, everybody breathe. Devin Wilson did a great job of slowing down and resetting the offense after a rushed three by NAW.
7:58 — A wild 23-point lead appeared! Iowa is shooting 8% from the field in the second half. EIGHT. I don't care who the Hokies are playing, holding a team to that low of a percentage during a half is an accomplishment.
Kerry Blackshear was limping after that last play, but he seems to be fine now. Exhales.
5:20 — Virginia Tech might actually win this game by 30. Perform this consistently and the Hokies will put a lot of people on notice. They combined a suffocating defensive effort with a relatively meek shooting night (to Virginia Tech's standards at least) into domination.
1:06 — Okay so Virginia Tech won't win by 30. But goodness, I did not anticipate Justin Ammerman to check in.