By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Leading by one with under 40 seconds to play, the situation may have called for Virginia Tech to slow it down and work the clock.
Not to Adam Smith.
“It was rhythm man, if I am in a rhythm, I think all of them are going in, 10 for 10,” Smith said. “I was pretty confident, I was just happy he called the foul, but even if he didn’t call the foul, I would have took the bucket.”
The transfer from North Carolina-Wilmington followed up a 3 by West Virginia’s Remi Dibo by driving hard to the goal and pulling up for a 12-foot jumper that hit the backboard and fell through the bottom of the net with 33.2 seconds on the clock.
He was also fouled on the play, made the shot, and Hokies were able to hold off West Virginia for a 87-82 victory in front of a Cassell Coliseum audience of 5,049 in what was part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon on Tuesday afternoon.
“When I took this job I wanted to restart this series with West Virginia and the last two games have been dandy,” Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson said. “The guys showed a lot of heart, show a lot of fight and came out and found a way to win this one tonight.”
Virginia Tech, which lost at West Virginia 68-67 last year in the rivals’ first meeting since 2003, survive a foul-fest, with the clubs combining for 53 fouls and 69 free throws as college basketball officials continue to follow orders and try to clean up the game.
Three players fouled out in the game, including two Mountaineers, and another six finished with four fouls apiece. The Hokies were 30-for-38 from the charity stripe, while West Virginia was 21-for-33.
“That is the way it is going to get called, I guess,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “I wish I had an answer. I understand what they are trying to do. Consistency would help so everything is called the same all the time.
“They are trying to feel their way through it just like we are, I guess. They have never called the game that way before either. It is what it is.”
Virginia Tech (1-1), which had been upset by South Carolina-Upstate in the season opener last Saturday, was able to even its mark, overcoming an 17-point first half deficit, shooting 60.9 percent from the field after the break, while blocking 13 West Virginia shot attempts in the game.
“It definitely is nice to get that first win under our belt,” said Virginia Tech freshman point guard Devin Wilson, who had 16 points, five rebounds and four assists. “A nice team win as well, everybody really worked together well, a great win for us.”
Virginia Tech also received 22 points, six boards and three blocked shots from freshman Ben Emelogu, who combined with fellow newcomers Smith (19 points), Wilson and freshman Trevor Thompson for 64 points.
“I thought they played OK in the first game, but tonight I thought they were tremendous,” said Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson, who also received seven points, three blocked shots and five boards from Thompson. “They did the things that I recruited them to do.
“They did the things I have seen them do in practice and they took it over to game time today against a hostile team, a tough, physical team, they did a great job, all of them.”
West Virginia, which led 29-12 nine minutes into the game and 40-24 with 3:26 left in the opening half, was outscored 12-1 going into the break, with a 3 at the buzzer by Emelogu narrowing the margin to 41-36.
“We fought, man, we just fought near the end of the first half and just huge buckets going toward halftime,” Smith said. “We really had the momentum coming out in the second half and that helped us not get off to a slow start that we did in the first half, that really helped us out.”
Virginia Tech tied the score for the first time at 41-41 on a 3 by Smith, and took its first lead, 44-41, on a trio of free throws by Jarell Eddie, who was fouled attempting a 3 with 17:41 on the clock.
“We screwed the game up in the first half,” Huggins said. “I have got a whole bunch of freshmen that don’t understand how hard you have to play so we got up 16 and we stopped guarding and when you stop guarding, people will take advantage of you.
“They are good players obviously or they wouldn’t be here.”
Virginia Tech continued to attack the basket after the break, completing a 21-5 run with a basket by Thompson to build the Hokies biggest lead at 10, 55-45, with 14:33 to go.
“The first half we came out and we were shooting a lot of jump shots and really were settling for shots they were wanting us to take,” Wilson said. “In the second half we were attacking and getting to the rim as much as possible.”
The lead traded sides seven times and the score was tied four times in the second half, with the Mountaineers taking its final lead, 77-76, on a 3 by Nathan Adrian with 2:29 to play. Once again, the Hokies responded, going back on top on a turnaround in the lane by Eddie.
Juwan Staten followed by driving to the basket for West Virginia, but Cadarian Raines blocked his fifth shot of the game, with Smith grabbing the rebound and going fullcourt to put the Hokies up 80-77.
West Virginia (1-1), which had 11 3s to five by Virginia Tech, missed 12 free throws and numerous layups and open looks, although maybe not as many as Huggins thought.
“I have told them and told them and told them and told them and told them that you can’t take plays off and we continually take plays off,” Huggins said. “We continually come out of a stance, we continually stand up, we continually don’t get back...On top of that we missed about 106 layups.”
Staten moved the Mountaineers within one with 44.3 seconds left before Smith got the ball, drove to the basket and put up the runner from 12 feet away. It went in, as did the free throw to build the lead to 83-79.
“They were pressing and I was always taught when a team presses, attack, don’t try to stall or run clock down, even though we had the lead, you have still got to attack,” said Smith, who had 19 points. “We were in the double bonus so something good has to come out of it.”
Another 3 by Dibo, who had five in the game, cut the lead to 83-82, but Smith made a pair of free throws. West Virginia had a shot to tie the score, but Adrian threw up an air ball from 3-point range with 5 seconds left.
“Nate takes the shot with 5 seconds to go, we’re down by 3, why,” Huggins said. “Pass the ball, you didn’t have it, it didn’t work...
“Now on the fly and with no timeouts left, that was about the best we could hope for. Five seconds to go, probably drive it and pitch it to somebody else for a better look because that ball had no chance.”
Wilson was fouled on the rebound and made both free throws to secure the win.
“Coach Johnson told us this was going to be tough, physical game and that is what it was,” said Wilson, whose Hokies blocked 13 shots, including five by Raines and three each by Emelogu and Thompson. “He just said we needed to compete and at the end that is what we did.”
Dibo led West Virginia with 17 points, Eron Harris added 16 points, six rebounds and three assists, Gary Browne had 15 points and Staten contributed 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Freshman Devin Williams had a game-high 11 rebounds.
West Virginia returns to action on Sunday by hosting Duquesne.
“We are going to get better and better and better as the season goes along,” Huggins said. “They are good kids, they are coachable, but they just don’t understand how hard you have got to play for how long you have to play hard, they just don’t understand that.
“At the same time we can’t continually miss layups, their run came because we missed layups and free throws and wide open shots.”
Virginia Tech, which received 64 of its 87 points from four newcomers, will host Western Carolina on Friday.
“I hope we can keep that up,” Wilson said. “Hopefully everyone else contributes as much as they have been doing and we can carry this on.”
—Contact Brian Woodson