Virginia Tech Avoids The Sting of Georgia Tech Loss

Against the Yellow Jackets, the Hokies finally looked like their old self for the first time in a while.

[Virginia Tech Athletics]

It took a sluggish first half to get the wheels turning, but No. 22 Virginia Tech got back to their winning ways on Wednesday night. The Hokies knocked off Georgia Tech 76-68 and moved to 19-5 (8-4) on the season.

Even with a fast start courtesy of Ty "Trey" Outlaw (9 points in 1:35), after the opening 20 minutes Buzzketball looked dangerously close to losing a third straight game. A Tech offense that was humming along in the first 5 minutes came to a screeching halt over the final 4-and-change. A lack of offense and lackadaisical defense conjured flashbacks of how the Hokies had played since Justin Robinson went down with a foot injury. The Yellow Jackets headed into the locker room on a 14-0 run, a 30-27 lead, and all the momentum.

"That last stretch of the first half, it seemed like we got in a rut offensively," explained Kerry Blackshear Jr. "We were just getting lazy down on the defensive side of the floor and they [Georgia Tech] took advantage of it. ... The message at halftime was to go out and to compartmentalize that stretch, and just to move on from it."

And Virginia Tech did just that. The Hokies scored 49 points following the intermission, only three points shy of their total Atlanta output back in January. Outlaw, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Blackshear led the charge. Outlaw and Alexander-Walker scored 20 and 16 points respectively, while Blackshear not only contributed 16 points but also dished out a career high 8 assists. However, none of those players were the MVP. That title would fall to freshman Isaiah Wilkins.

"Yeah, that was easily one of his better games," Blackshear said while smiling. "He's almost, like, growing up right in front of our eyes. I think it's important that he's getting chances to go up against the old guys like me in practice. He's definitely getting better as we keep going through the schedule."

Wilkins is the second-youngest player in Division 1 basketball this season, according to Buzz Williams. Against Georgia Tech, Wilkins scored nine points while grabbing six rebounds. It's not a jaw dropping stat line, but given the circumstances, it should turn heads. Wilkins has gone from not being committed to a school three months before the season to playing 28 minutes in a very important ACC game for a nationally ranked basketball team.

"This is my 25th year as a college coach and Wilkins is the only player from high school that I've ever signed that didn't attend summer school," explained Williams. "The recruiting story is much abbreviated. At that time he didn't come on an official visit, we didn't write him letters, or go see him. I told him that we would give him a scholarship and that he would redshirt. Obviously, that has dramatically changed in ACC game twelve. I thought in many respects he was the difference in winning and losing. I thought he had four or five possession-saving plays in addition to the four offensive rebounds. I think he is carrying a burden so heavy that he doesn't even really know. Partly because he is so young to what has happened. I do think through all of that his character and his work ethic has matured."

One of the most impressive aspects of Wilkins' performance won't show up on the stat sheet either. That's what Williams described as 'possession saving plays'. An instance that immediately comes to mind is when a kick out pass by Blackshear was airmailed and seemingly destined for the Courtside at Cassell seats. Wilkins reached up, à la Odell Beckham Jr., and brought the rock down with one hand. Instead of Georgia Tech getting the ball down five, Blackshear made a floater to push the lead to seven. The lead would never get smaller than that the rest of the game.

Those types of plays can make or break a game; preserve momentum. Against the Yellow Jackets, the Hokies needed every ounce of mojo they could muster. The schedule does not get any easier going forward for the Hokies and thus it felt like a must-win. Wilkins' contributions was a main reason Virginia Tech was able to secure a victory they desperately needed.

"I thought today was as big of a game we have played since we have lived here," noted Williams. "I guess as a coach you want to be saying those types of things around Valentine's Day. I think this is probably the fastest we have ever gotten to 19 wins and the fastest we have gotten to eight wins in the ACC. The margin is invisible and we have a lot of work to do to try to see if we can win another road game."

Final Five

Starting lineup switch? With Wabissa Bede currently... we'll say struggling (and that's using a loose definition of the word), it might be time to think about inserting Wilkins into the starting five. Two months ago, that idea would've gotten laughed out of the room. But Bede hasn't produced, which is now even more apparent with Robinson sidelined. Before his layup to start the second half, Bede had gone 106 minutes without scoring. 106. That's an unacceptable production from an ACC starting point guard. Wilkins is younger and will probably definitely make more mistakes. But Bede's not playing flawless. He committed four fouls and turned the ball over twice against the Yellow Jackets. At least Wilkins is supplying a much needed spark on offense. He played 28 minutes compared to Bede's 19 against the Yellow Jackets, which is a step in the right direction.

Blackshear is the Most Improved Player this season. There should be no argument here. Blackshear has gone from a so-so player that got in foul trouble seemingly in every game to a multi-tooled, well rounded, big man. Blackshear tied his career high in assists against Georgia Tech while also scoring 16 points. His offensive skill set has grown in a way that makes him a nightmare for opponents. When he receives a pass outside the arc and a defender closes out too fast, he'll spin right on by and drive the lane. If a defender sags off, Blackshear will just knock down the three. And even if an opponent ends up guarding Blackshear perfectly, he's got the vision to find the open man for an easy basket. Oh, and he's 6'10". Good luck.

Time to enter the gauntlet. Virginia Tech's next four games are either on the road or against Virginia and Duke. Yikes. Road games in the ACC should never be chalked up as wins, but if there's ever two games that lean in that direction, it's these next two. The Hokies travel to Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, who are 2-10 and 3-8 in ACC play respectively. Skutt's Sportsbook gives them good odds in both games if Tech plays like they did in the second half. Going 2-2 over the next four games might be the best case scenario right now for the Hokies. It would move Virginia Tech over the 20 overall win mark and put them at 10 wins in the ACC. That right there should be enough to get the Hokies dancing.

Feed. Ty. Outlaw. Listen. When a player that shoots darn near 50% from beyond the arc is on the roster, the message from the coaching staff has to be 'shoot the ball whenever you have an inch of space'. Williams and his coaching staff preach taking "perfect" shots but my god, let the man shoot. Earlier this season, Outlaw wasn't seeing as many minutes as maybe he should have been. But against Georgia Tech, he played 37 minutes and guess what? He put up a game high 20 points via six three pointers and a couple free throws. Hopefully that trend continues for the a Hokies offense that is starving for points without their floor general.

Sound the Horne. P.J. Horne was back in action action and played 9 minutes, chipped in a bucket and a board. An undisclosed knee injury suffered against Wake Forest in January previously had him sidelined. There had been no mention of Horne's return leading up to the game, so him warming up and ready to play was a pleasant surprise. His return provides the Hokies with some semblance of depth again. Buzzketball now has eight healthy scholarship players.

Comments

I like the idea of putting Wilkins in the starting lineup. He's raw, aggressive, and hungry. Ya, he'll make some mistakes, but I love his game. He's got Zach LeDay-esque competitiveness. As much as I continue to pull for Bede, he's just not cutting it. I know he's going to get better throughout his career under Buzz, but I don't see him taking charge for the rest of this season like I thought he would given this opportunity. He's a liability out there for us offensively.

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

Bede definitely plays better defense than Wilkins, but the improvement in offense with Wilkins is probably more than the decrease in defense, so a slight net gain. It does make NAW play the point more which is fine but not his best position. Also, Wilkins physically looks like and runs like that 50-year-old guy who shuffles around but somehow kicks everyone's butt at the Y. Who doesn't want more of that!

Haha, I thought the same thing. Not in any way comparing Wilkins to Zion in skillset, but his frame and movement remind me a little of his the first time I saw that guy run. It's like a F-350 pulling a cigar boat on I-81. They're huge and intimidating but you speed up to blow by them because of course they're not going fast and then you realize they're somehow running 86 mph and weaving in and out of traffic.

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

While 5 is the unquestioned leader of this team, it can't be understated how huge it was to get PJ back last night. From the obvious things like being able to give KBJ a break so he is more fresh to not having to put Outlaw at the 5 allows him to have more shooting nights like last night, even if he only plays 10 min/game for the rest of the season it will be a huge boost to our chances at winning.

One of the things I noticed, especially in the first half last night, was KBJ was very disciplined defensively. The team was beaten by good passing a few times (especially late in the half) and KBJ was in a position to make a defensive play which probably would have resulted in a foul call. Earlier in the year, he would have attempted those plays. Last night (at least in the first half), he didn't. As the saying goes "you can get a basket back, you can't get a foul."

One major thing I noticed with Blackshear was after his third foul, you could see he was disappointed in himself, which prior to this game, I can remember him doing the pouty face with his hands out towards officials, ala "It wasn't me", but I cant recall ever seeing him seem disappointed in himself. That's a big step in the right direction.

Also, his ability to catch midair and pass before coming down to a wide open shooter was incredible. There really is no defense to that when you are talking a 6'10 guy catching and passing. It also adds another element for his defender to have to account for in terms of what is he going to do when the ball comes in which likely will help with separation down low which even a small space down there can create shooting space.

When I wrote about the Wilkins thing yesterday, I thought I might be out there with the dandelions in left field even though it made sense to me, but now that we have seen Buzz implement it and it worked fairly well, I really hope to see more of it going forward until Buzz is comfortable with Bede being over whatever is causing his Yips.

The comment above about Horne being back which keeps Outlaw outside cant be stated enough. Having Outlaw plugged up in the lane works defensively, as seen by his several blocked shots yesterday, but offensively his entire game rotates around the perimeter not down low.

The team seems to have more spark with Wilkins then they do with Bede. Or at the very minimum, the defense has to respect Wilkins more than they do Bede.

We looked more comfortable than I've seen lately. Still not a great ball-handling team, read dribbling, which is surprising since we seem to be a good passing team......it seems almost everyone has an assist. This game would've been a blow out if not for Devoe who played out of his mind, especially in the final 10 minutes. Kinda glad that it wasn't a blow out though since it gives end of game pressure experience to all. Satisfying win.

Also, I love the atmosphere in the coliseum.....student support is the ultimate. Go Hokies!

We haven't been to the Cassell in a number of years before this GT game, and while we see all the games on TV, they don't broadcast all of the things the students and the really good band are doing. Best I've ever seen there.
Oh, and the milkshakes are still thick as a brick and as delicious as ever.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Some Chicago Hokies will be in South Bend to support the team next sat. (email chicagohokies at gmail if interested).

Your headline is so perfect. This game does nothing to bolster tourney resume but losing would've been real real bad. It was the first "must win" game of the season and players stepped up which is really promising.

The Blackshear is playing, I think the offense needs to run through him, and they need to start doing that earlier in the game. Post-ups, NAW/KJ pick-and-rolls/pick-and-pops, high post distributing, dribble handoffs, and LeDay style pump fake and drive. Without J-Rob, we don't have the same perimeter playmaking ability and KJ can supplement the playmaking. It feel like Buzz has gone away from paint-touches, but I think going back to that with KJ would really open things up.

Outside it's night time, but inside it's LeDay

Blackshear definitely played a more active role in dishing it out and getting assists. He did not need to play the role with Justin Robinson in as point. To see him take that role was great. Given the fact that GT played a slow zone, they could not close out on Outlaw and NAW on the perimeter. Then at times where Blackshear got the ball at the high post and help was slow to come to defend HIM. Were they afraid of him dishing it out? More often than not, Blackshear did make them pay for no help (call it slowness or indecision). Overall a good Hokie offensive plan against the GT zone, which again, seemed a bit slow on the ball.

Let us see if the Hokies can repeat against a pressure man-to-man.

Not many teams in the ACC use the pressure man-to-man. All of our remaining ACC games, the only team that plays a significant amount of man to man is Florida State. Everyone else is using a variant of the 2-3 zone for the majority of their defensive effort.

Waho's suck
Uva swallows

Isaiah Wilkins.

Loose balls, rebounds, defense... Oh, and he shoots almost 50% from three. Tremendous growth in his game going on right before our eyes.

Is it basketball season yet?

Baby Marcus Smart. Great competitive drive, his story getting here was pretty crazy as he didn't even have a D1 offer coming into last summer. Lost 20 lbs the first three months at VT. True OKG.

It was a number of the games earlier in the season I saw him kicking some serious tail. Had a good feeling. Let's hope his growth not only sustains, but continues.

Waho's suck
Uva swallows

Personally what I liked most with Wilkins on the court is that it put Hill at the top of the key more. He looks better at getting the ball into the paint and occasionally penetrating into the lane compared to NAW and Bede. I don't understand why NAW or Bede always loop around the key when they try to drive and never blow by the defender straight into the lane. Maybe they can't. Bede also never pushes the ball after a defensive rebound. NAW and Hill were more willing to push the pace when Bede was out.

I really liked it this game how they let Hill bring the ball down the court and had NAW play off ball if even for just a bit to start the possession. I feel like it helps him get into a rhythm when he doesn't have to start every possession with the ball in his hands. As for Bede, he has no confidence in his offensive game. There were multiple possessions this game that seemed like he had a clear lane to the basket, but instead of driving in an attempt to score he backed the ball out and forced a late shot-clock outside shot. There's a lot of talk about Robinsons passing, but his willingness and ability to take advantage of a seem in the defense to drive to the basket is the main thing we're missing.

Bede was on the court shooting ~3 hours before tip. He doesn't look at all confident in his shot and looked really tight. Looks to me from watching him play that he's overthinking everything and not letting things flow naturally. He puts in the effort, but his brain seems to be tying up his feet. Case in point, that play in the second half when he had a clear path to the bucket and kicked it out. I think we'll see improvement in the offseason, if he can improve his shot/floor command some he'll be a great PG.

"It's a miracle in Blacksburg, TYROD DID IT MIKEY, TYROD DID IT!"