Last season, the Hokies lost to Wake Forest in the final game of the regular season. This year, the storyline was different. Virginia Tech went into Winston-Salem and picked up a crucial road ACC win, 83-75, on Wednesday night.
Buzzketball put together a complete performance, leading from wire-to-wire. Tech was paced by Ahmed Hill with 21 points. Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Chris Clarke co-led the team with six rebounds.
The Hokies jumped out to an early 11-1 lead, courtesy of Justin Bibbs and Hill. The two Tech sharpshooters played extremely well in the first half as they both contributed 13 points.
"I've got great guys who will find me in the corner," said Hill. "They found me tonight and I shot the ball well."
"You're welcome," Bibbs shouted from the back of the room.
Clarke also got into double-figures in the first 20 minutes, knocking down five shots. His 12-point output in the first frame included a three-pointer and an "and-one", showing the skillset the Tech forward possess.
In the second half, the Demon-Deacons put up much more of a fight. Wake started out on a 9-0 run, trimming the lead to just 45-39. Tech immediately responded with three-pointers from Bibbs, Blackshear Jr., and Hill to open it right back up to a 15 point advantage.
"I thought we handled their runs with the highest level of maturity that we have this season," Buzz Williams remarked after the game.
Tech was able to open up a lead as large as 17 in the second frame. In response, Wake pushed the Hokies and trimmed the lead to four with two minutes left. However, Tech calmly converted several clutch layups and free throws to close out the game victorious.
"Last year it was Seth [Allen]," Justin Robinson noted after the game. "This year I'm trying to take a little bit of the responsibility."
The Hokies were able to get past a serious rebounding disparity. Wake finished the game with 10 more offensive rebounds than Tech. Not surprisingly, that was the final difference between the two teams on the boards.
It's not an uncommon theme this season, but the large rebound gap is something Tech has struggled to overcome. Tonight, the Hokies' hot shooting was able to balance it out. Tech finished 12 for 29 (43%) from three and 29 for 57 (51%) total from the field.
"If I was a fan of good basketball, at times I think we play good offensively," added Williams. "We don't play good defensively."
It was a closer than desired contest but by the end of the night, Buzzketball had picked up an ACC road win and will return to Blacksburg at .500 in-conference.
"I think the next step for us is, 'How do we handle this?'," reflected Williams after the game. "I think the guys handled the smacking Virginia gave us with great character."
Virginia Tech travels to Louisville on Saturday. Tip-off is at 4:00 PM.
My thoughts from press row:
First Half: Virginia Tech 45–Wake Forest 30
19:23 ‒ Justin Bibbs misses his first three-pointer of the evening. He's been ice-cold these past few games.
18:09 ‒ Blackshear Jr. picks up two fouls in a two-second span. But then he doesn't. The refs move the foul to Devin Wilson's stat-sheet. Huge break for the Hokies.
15:38 ‒ First media timeout. Tech has looked much better. As a team, they're getting out and running outlets at the pace they want. At an individual level, Bibbs and Hill both have a three-pointer, a welcome sight to fans.
Tech Hill is on a roll right now. The sharpshooter has three buckets from deep, matching his total from the preview three ACC games. Tech is up 21-8 and the home crowd is restless. Buzzketball as a team is 4 for 7 (57%) from deep; a much improved percentage from Tech's previous ACC games.
9:43 ‒ The Hokies have a serious height disadvantage in this game. That's not anything surprising, but the Deacons are capitalizing on the opportunity. Wake has six offensive rebounds. Their big man Doral Moore (7'1") is making easy work of Ahmed Hill in the post.
5:28 ‒ Demon-Deacon guard Keyshawn Woods hits a three to close the gap to five. For the first time all night, this arena is loud.
0.0 ‒ Nickeil Alexander-Walker ends the half on a 5 point spurt, hitting a deep three with 20 seconds left and then a layup at the buzzer. Hokies are up 15 at the break.
The Hokies are shooting the lights out — 17 for 27 (63%) from the field and 7 for 14 (50% but you knew that I hope) from three. This is the type of shooting performance that will spur a tournament appearance for Tech.
This entire season, the narrative has been that when Tech shoots well, the Hokies can compete with anybody. When they're not shooting well, they'll lose by 26 (hello, Virginia). This matchup is a showcase of the former. Buzzketball is flat-out shooting Wake Forest out of the gym.
Ahmed Hill found his groove in the first frame. His hot shooting from deep ‒ knocking down three of the Hokies' 7 so far ‒ has made this crowd groan audibly every time he's open.
Tech will need to key in on Doral Moore in the second half. His size is something the Hokies can't counter. He's been able to get open whenever he wants on the post, shooting 4 for 6 in the first.
Second Half: Virginia Tech83–Wake Forest 75
18:25 ‒ Wake opened this half much more aggressively. The 15-point lead is down to 10. Blackshear Jr. has picked up his third foul and will now spend some serious time riding the pine.
16:52 ‒ Tech grabs their first offensive rebound of the night. Wake has eight.
14:59 ‒ Blackshear Jr. finally gets some points; as he knocks down a three-pointer. The Hokies lone post player is turning into yet another legitimate threat from beyond the arc. Scary.
11:42 ‒ Hokies go up by 17 on a Hill layup. It's the largest lead in an ACC game this season for Buzzketball.
6:13 ‒ What a sequence. The lead has see-sawed between six and nine (nice) as the two teams have been trading three-pointers.
5:06 ‒ All of a sudden, it's a four-point game. Now is the time for the Hokies to prove what they're capable of. Can they recover in a hostile environment on the road? Or will they succumb to the pressure?
1:07 ‒ Robinson with a seriously fancy layup on the baseline, but Wake responds with a layup of their own. Tech is clinging on to a seven point lead (75-68).
0.0 ‒ Tech ices the game from the free throw line. The Hokies finish the contest shooting a stellar 13 for 16 (81.3%) from the charity stripe.