Like almost any gambler, Buzzketball was up and down throughout the night, but walked away a winner. No. 13 Virginia Tech beat the Washington Huskies, 73-61. It was a classic Saturday in Atlantic City. The Hokies got off to a quick start, tightened up some as profits dwindled, and then doubled down on its best strategy to finish up on the night. Virginia Tech moved to 9-1 and has two tuneup games (North Carolina A&T, Maryland Eastern Shore) in Cassell before finally starting ACC play (Notre Dame).
It was a story of two halves in Atlantic City. A brilliant first half performance by the Hokies was followed up by inspired play from Washington following intermission.
In the first half, Virginia Tech showed why they entered the game with the 10th-best shooting percentage in the country (51%). Buzzketball always looked to make the extra pass. When they did, it led to wide open shots.
Buzz Williams has always emphasized ball movement. He's preached on the importance of "good", "great", and "perfect" shots. There hasn't been a public definition of how to determine those shot statuses. Gut reaction says the Hokies took plenty of great and perfect shots in the first 20 minutes. Virginia Tech shot 45% from the field and scored on 50% of their first half possessions.
The first half offense wasn't the main storyline though. Buzzketball's defense was smothering. The Hokies held Washington to just 27.6% from the field and 21 points in the first frame.
The broadcast team even took notice of the defensive play. Time and time again, they would point out how quick the Hokies rotation was. The constant ball pressure. Virginia Tech's knowledge of when and where to double team. It was a complete team effort in the first half.
After halftime, the Hokies gave in to their more destructive habits, and Washington cashed in. The Huskies made eight shots from beyond the arc in the second half, and shot 45.2% overall. Washington's offense stemmed from the Hokies' lack of one. Virginia Tech turned the ball over six times after the break, and the Huskies scored 10 points off those giveaways. Virginia Tech's largest lead in the second frame was 19, at the 17:45 mark. With 9:03 to go, that margin was down to 7.
Then it was the Nickeil Alexander-Walker show. With the Hokies up 53-46, the sophomore guard scored 11 of Virginia Tech's next 13 points. The only points he didn't score during his personal run, was when he secured a offensive rebound and dished the rock for an open layup.
"You have guys like Ty [Outlaw] and Ahmed [Hill], so teams worry when they're on the wings and they're tilting down for the 3," explained Alexander-Walker. "So they open the game up for me."
Alexander-Walker finished the contest with 24 points on 9 of 14 shooting. That alone is an impressive showing. But the soon-to-be lottery pick 一 it's time to prepare for his departure 一 secured MVP while only playing 26 minutes. Alexander-Walker picked up two quick fouls and rode the bench for almost 12 minutes in the first half. Following the break, he only sat for two. The 20-plus point performance is his fifth of the season.
Buzzketball certainly made it more difficult than it needed to be, but ultimately it was a 12-point victory against a squad ranked No. 54 by Pomeroy rating. That same Huskies team took then-No. 1 Gonzaga to the final buzzer. As it stands, this is a quadrant 1 victory for Buzzketball. The selection committee sure does love their quadrants.
i went to school when erick green was quite literally 100% of virginia tech's offense. and tonight, #13 virginia tech cruised to a double-digit win over an ncaa tournament washington team. buzz williams is the best.— BUZZKETBALL (@BUZZKETBALL_) December 16, 2018
Up next, Virginia Tech gets a chance to secure their 10th win before Christmas. The Hokies return to action next Wednesday, taking on North Carolina A&T in Cassell Coliseum.
First Half: Virginia Tech 39–Washington 21
12:04, 14-8 VT Alexander-Walker picks up his second foul of the game. He'll have to sit for the rest of the first half. It's uncharacteristic of the sophomore guard to be in foul trouble.
10:25, 20-10 VT Robinson got out on the fast break and forces Washington to call their second timeout of the game. Huskies seem unable to stop the Virginia Tech fast break.
5:21, 32-14 VT The Hokies are strangling the Huskies defensively. That's weird to type out.
00.0, 39-21 VT Virginia Tech just scored 39 points in that half with their best scorer on the bench since the 12-minute mark. A very solid performance from Buzzketball so far tonight.
Second Half: Virginia Tech 73–Washington 61
18:37, 44-26 VT Blackshear Jr. picks up two fouls within seconds of each other. As is tradition.
16:27, 46-33 VT Washington is on a 9-2 run since Blackshear Jr. got into foul trouble. Virginia Tech is playing sloppy. Already at 10 turnovers for the game.
11:35, 54-42 VT Blackshear Jr. checked back in with 13:14 remaining. He just picked up his fourth foul. Not ideal.
8:39, 56-46 VT Alexander-Walker stopped the bleeding with a strong and-1 layup. Virginia Tech had a 21 point lead at one point tonight.
5:56, 59-49 VT Alexander-Walker is taking over. He's on an 8-0 run.
3:59, 66-54 VT Alexander-Walker has 11 of the Hokies last 13 points. The only two points he didn't score, he got an offensive rebound and assisted on the bucket. It's fun to wonder what it'll be like to have a lottery pick out of Virginia Tech.