If this is what well-oiled looks like for the Hokies, then Buzzketball is going to come to a grinding halt in ACC play.
Presbyterian entered their bout against the Hokies on Tuesday night rated 339th in KenPom. Virginia Tech was No. 28. KenPom isn't the end-all for determining how a game will play out ‒ Saint Louis was definitely rated below Tech in November ‒ but it gives a general sense. This game didn't hold to script. The Hokies fended off the Blue Hose 63-55.
Virginia Tech looked slow from the get-go, depleted from the 87-93 loss to Kentucky The Hokies seemed to have left a lot of energy in Rupp Arena after their defeat just three days prior.
"There is some emotion from Kentucky," Buzz Williams said after the game. "But that's not an excuse."
Tech played sluggish throughout the entire game. Tech labored to pull away from the Blue Hose, and didn't take a double-digit lead until the 5:13 mark in the second half.
"Definitely didn't expect it," Chris Clarke remarked after the game. "We came in with a lot of energy in shoot-around and warmups. Just a slow start for us."
Presbyterian slowed the pace down and found success. Virginia Tech, the nation's best scoring offense (95 points/game) was held to a season low in points. The next lowest (77 points) came in their loss to Saint Louis
"Presbyterian's style slightly resembled Saint Louis'," Justin Robinson said. "They put the ball down until the last 10 seconds of the clock and then shot the ball. It was a good game plan for them. Saint Louis beat us close and so they [Presbyterian] learned from that."
This game can be used as a teaching moment for ACC play. Presbyterian played by their pace, and didn't waver. It's very similar to what the Hokies will see when they play Georgia Tech.
"We scheduled this game ... because their offense is the offense that Georgia Tech runs," said Williams. "They're the only team [in the ACC] that plays that."
As was the case against Kentucky, Virginia Tech again struggled with turnovers. The Hokies finished with 12 on the night, and have given away the ball a combined 31 times in the past two outings.
"I haven't liked the turnover rate the last two games, but the previous two games it was the best turnover rate," explained Williams. "I think defensive rebounding ... and our turnover rate is going to be paramount. I think those will be two numbers that will dictate a lot of our success and/or not success."
By the end of the night, Virginia Tech moved to 10-2 on the season. It wasn't a pretty win, and anybody who watched had reason to be concerned. But there were steps forward for the Hokies.
"We play close games in the ACC," said Robinson. "I think us winning the game and not losing the game like we lost to Saint Louis was the positive step tonight."
This felt like a game that in years one or two of Williams' tenure the Hokies would've dropped. It most certainly would've kept the Hokies from dancing in March, a la the Alabama State loss in year two. Instead, Tech showed their maturity and found a way to win.
Buzzketball is now off for the holidays until they return to Cassell for their final tune-up. After that, the gloves are off.
First Half: Virginia Tech 29–Presbyterian 28
20:00 ‒ P.J. Horne gets his first start of the season. He was absent from the box score against Kentucky. Hopefully he gets some good experience tonight.
"Buzz said before the game that it was a test for P.J. just to see if he could handle it," explained Clarke after the game. "He just wants to make sure P.J's ready because further down the season, we're going to have to play him more if KJ's in foul trouble."
14:20 ‒ Not a good start so far. Tech enters the under-16 media timeout down 11-9. Justin Bibbs just picked up his second foul, and the Blue Hose will have a chance to extend their lead out of the break.
Four Hokies checked in during the timeout. Kerry Blackshear Jr., Devin Wilson, Wabissa Bede and Tyrie Jackson. Clarke was the only player to stay on the floor.
10:11 ‒ Clarke commits the Hokies fifth turnover of the game. They had 19 in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
8:22 ‒ Presbyterian continues to lead the Hokies, sinking yet another shot from deep to go up 21-18. Not an encouraging start to see. If there was to ever be a trap game this season, it would be this one. Huge emotional game against a blue-blood just three days prior to this one.
3:32 ‒ The Hokies are shooting a better percentage (48% vs. 35%) and have grabbed more rebounds (15-9), but still trail the Blue Hose.
3:13 ‒ Bibbs commits his third foul with a charge. Not great, Bob.
TL;DR: That was a very ugly opening frame.
Tech continues to shoot better than Presbyterian by almost a full 10 percentage points. The Hokies also continue to have a rebounding advantage. And yet, they only hold a one-point edge.
Justin Bibbs, the team's leader in points, hasn't entered the scoring column yet. He's been on the bench for the majority of the game with foul issues. Clarke has been the lone bright spot for Tech, snagging six rebounds.
Everything else about this game so far has been bleh. Hopefully the coaching staff has made the necessary adjustments during the intermission. The Hokies' NCAA hopes depend on it.
Second Half: Virginia Tech 63–Presbyterian 55
14:15 ‒ Tech has "opened up" a three-point lead at the under-16 timeout. Ahmed Hill has put in seven points this half for a total of 12, making him the first Hokie to reach double-digits.
12:47 ‒ Tech is very slowly trying to pull away. A layup and a free-throw from Clarke make this a five-point game.
11:06 ‒ It's felt like Virginia Tech has been quiet from distance tonight, and I was right. The Hokies are only 3 for 9 from three tonight. Those struggles come on the heels of a quiet shooting performance against Kentucky.
10:30 ‒ Bibbs picks up his fourth foul. It just hasn't been his night tonight, sitting down with four turnovers, four fouls, and only two points.
8:17 ‒ NAW gets a steal and a dunk, putting Tech up by two, 49-47. Cassell is alive for the first time tonight. I don't think the crowd was prepared for such a close game.
6:54 ‒ What a sequence. NAW gets a block, Robinson gets his layup blocked, NAW gets another block. Those possession were at the pace the Hokies want to be playing at. Presbyterian has really taken Tech out of that style of play. The shot clock has rarely been above 10 at the end of the Blue Hose's possessions.
5:36 ‒ Finally, some separation. It's an eight-point lead (55-47) and the momentum seems to be squarely on the Hokies' side.
1:34 ‒ Virginia Tech is up 61-50 and will win this game, but man it was iffy. The Hokies will need to figure out whatever happened tonight before the conference gauntlet starts.