Let's pick up with Buzzketball where we left off last week.
Road wins don't come easily in the ACC. However, it's entirely possible that the Hokies can string together two Ws away from the Cassell. The amount of confidence and momentum that scenario would provide this squad can not be understated.
And guess what the Hokies did.
It was a huge roadtrip for Virginia Tech which moved to 16-6 (5-4) on the season, and finished the month of January with a winning record (5-3) for the first time in Buzz Williams' tenure.
Virginia Tech 80–Notre Dame 75
Things I hoped to write about this game: Virginia Tech won a road game in South Bend.
Things I hoped to not write about this game: Virginia Tech blew a 15-point second half lead in South Bend.
I get to do both. Tech pulled out a victory on the road. They also made it as difficult as possible.
With the absence of Irish stars Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, the Hokies seemed comfortable from the get-go. Tech started red-hot. Four of the first six made baskets were from three, and each of those 4 deep balls came from different Hokies: Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibs, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson.
Buzzketball led the game for 36:44, and for a majority of the first half, the Hokies' lead never fell under 7 points. In the second half, the differential expanded to the aforementioned 15-point margin. A 15-3 run by Notre Dame propelled the home crowd back into the game, and that provided the Irish with all the momentum. Tech bent but didn't break. A three-pointer by Alexander-Walker steadied the ship, and the Irish were never able to get over the hump and take a lead.
Justin Bibbs was the star of the game. A 21-point, 8 for 10 (4 for 4 from three) performance paced the Hokies. As a team, Tech shot 14 for 25 (56%) from deep. Not too shabby.
Chris Clarke was the hero late though. He scored the final six points, 10 of the last 12, and 10 of his own 12 points in the waning minutes of the game. His athleticism was on display when he missed a key layup, landed, and sprung right back up to tip his own miss into the hoop.
Virginia Tech 85–Boston College 80
Deep breaths. Repeat after me:
"Any ACC road win is a good win."
Until Wednesday, Boston College had only lost a single home game this season. That includes an 89-84 upset of then-No. 1 Duke. It took an extra five minutes, but the Hokies handed the Eagles their second loss at home.
Buzzketball tried their best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A slow, but steady, offensive grind by the Hokies resulted in a double-digit lead in the second half.
All that hard work went down the drain in a single possession. With the Hokies up 7 with 1:02 left in the game, Bibbs fouled a three-point shooter and Clarke also picked up a technical. This sequence allowed BC's Jerome Robinson to score five points with no time running off the clock.
The overtime period was back and forth. Tech wasn't able to pull away until Nickeil Alexander-Walker hit a contested three-pointer with 1:57 remaining.
The star freshman shined brightly all game long, scoring 18 points on 50% from the field and grabbing six rebounds.
Other key contributors for Tech included:
- Blackshear Jr., who scored a team-high 20 points, went 6 for 6 from the charity stripe, and played 40 minutes
- Bibbs with 18 points (4 for 7 from deep)
- Robinson with a double-double (10 points and a Tech-record 12 assists)
It was yet another ugly game, and Tech basically gifted the Eagles an overtime period. But at the end of the day, Buzzketball became only the second team to win in the sleepy, weird, clanky gym that is Conte Forum. Duke couldn't do it. Florida State couldn't. Virginia only beat the Eagles by one in Charlottesville. This was a good win for the Hokies and their tournament resume.
Top Play of the Week
Clarke single-handedly sealed the game for the Hokies against Notre Dame. These two huge hustle plays showed why Williams calls him an OKG.
February 3: Virginia Tech vs. Miami
Here's a scenario for you:
The Hokies beat the Hurricanes. Louisville loses to Florida State. Buzzketball is tied for 4th in the ACC.
Seriously. There's a chance that in just over 24 hours, Tech will be sitting right on the double-bye line. Will it stay that way? The gauntlet stretch to end the Hokies' season says "probably not", but consider the sky was falling for the Hokie faithful after two straight bad losses to open conference play. I will admit, I had my doubts too. For Tech to be anywhere close to the top of the standings in February is impressive.
Miami lost one of its best players, guard Bruce Brown, to foot surgery earlier this week.
Tech has benefitted from a bit of luck, as this will be their second time in three games that the Hokies will face a quality team with a depleted roster.
Brown returned for his sophomore season as a preseason All-American, and is expected to go in the first round in the NBA draft.
How important is Brown to the Hurricanes? Before his surgery, he led Miami in minutes (33.7), rebounds (7.1), assists (4), steals (1.3), and is the second-best scorer on the team (11.4). He's good.
During Brown's absence, the Hurricanes will lean on freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV ‒ basically a carbon copy of Brown from a year ago. Walker IV is the same height and weight as Brown, and averages the same numbers this season as Brown did last year.
Tech carries all its momentum into a sold-out Cassell on Saturday afternoon. I'll use this platform to remind any Hokie fans attending to wear white! Last year's attempt for a white-out during the Miami game was... lackluster.
I've laid out the standings scenario for what happens if the Hokies win. Right now, Tech sits in a three-way tie for 5th place in the ACC. VT, Miami, and NC State. Right after the Miami game it's...
February 7: Virginia Tech vs. N.C. State
Ugh. 9 p.m. tip-offs are dumb.
N.C. State is a weird team this season. In their first year under Kevin Keatts, the Wolfpack have beaten Duke, UNC, Clemson, and Arizona. They've also lost to UNC-Greensboro and Northern Iowa.
This is one of the two remaining games this season (Georgia Tech) for the Hokies where their opponent is ranked below them in the metrics the selection committee looks at. In KenPom and RPI, the Wolfpack are rated No. 65 and No. 64 respectively. The Yellow Jackets sit at No. 105/135.
The Wolfpack ran the Hokies out of the gym last season, winning 104-78. Dennis Smith Jr. was the star for N.C. State last year, but he's moved on to dunking and dropping triple-doubles for the Mavericks.
This season, it's more of a team effort for the Wolfpack. In their upset win over North Carolina, State shot 15 for 30 from distance, including a career performance from Allerik Freeman (29 points, 7 for 7 from three). N.C. State averaged 6.8 threes/game before their breakout performance against the Heels. And if we're being honest, don't be surprised to see a similar showing against the Hokies. Tech seems to love to give opponents career games from beyond the arc.
Omer Yurtseven is the Wolfpack's seven-footer. He's a complete player, averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds. He'll be an issue for Tech if Blackshear Jr. gets in foul trouble. Yurtseven had 16 points and 13 rebounds in the upset over North Carolina.
Keep an eye out for Abdul-Malik Abu, a 6'8", 240 pound forward who gave the Hokies fits last season during the game.
Examining the remaining home schedule, these next two in Blacksburg are opportunities the Hokies need to capitalize on. The rest of the home slate — Duke, Louisville, and Clemson — stand to be much more of a challenge.