BROOKLYN — Virginia Tech’s Jarell Eddie was having a first half he won’t soon forget at Barclays Center. Eddie couldn’t seem to miss from three-point range, and it was driving Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo nuts. He was so good early on that the Hokies, picked to finish last in the ACC, actually built a six-point lead against the No. 1 team in the country.
The only problem: His barrage also awoke Adreian Payne, and nothing could save the Hokies from his wrath.
Behind a dominating performance by its star senior, No. 1 Michigan State cruised to a 96-77 victory over Virginia Tech in the semifinal round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Friday night. Payne finished with a career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds as the Spartans pulled away from the overmatched Hokies following a sluggish start.
“We just couldn’t overcome their talent, their depth,” Hokies Coach James Johnson said of Payne. “He hurt us outside, and when he’s playing like that, he’s a load. He was the spark for them tonight, and they fed off him.”
Eddie paced Virginia Tech with a season-high 23 points, and guard Adam Smith added a career-high 27 points, six rebounds and five assists, but the Hokies couldn’t generate anything offensively in the second half until the game was well out of reach.
Virginia Tech (3-2) will play Seton Hall in a consolation matchup Saturday at 7 p.m. The Pirates lost to Oklahoma, 86-85, after blowing a seven-point lead in the final minute of regulation in the first game of Friday night’s doubleheader. Michigan State (5-0) will face Oklahoma in Saturday night’s championship game.
The opening 10 minutes of Friday night’s game could be a galvanizing moment for Virginia Tech going forward. Despite a rash of early miscues, the Hokies hung close with Eddie on fire and the Spartans settling for three-pointers and missing easy lay-ins.
Michigan State hit 14 of its 35 three-point attempts and finished the contest shooting 50.7 percent from the floor.
The Hokies were ultimately done in by inexperienced guards who seemed skittish in a high-profile environment and a front court that simply couldn’t keep up with Michigan State’s big men. The Hokies committed 17 turnovers, and the Spartans (13 steals) turned many of them into fast-break dunks that brought the pro-Michigan State crowd to its feet.
The Spartans outscored Virginia Tech 40-14 in the paint.
It was Payne, though, who broke the game open late in the first half once Virginia Tech took a 20-14 lead on an Eddie three-point play. Without hesitation, the 6-10, 245-pound matchup nightmare promptly came down the floor and hit a three-pointer to ignite an 8-0 run.
The Hokies answered with a three-pointer by Eddie to regain a one-point advantage, and at that point, they had hit 10 of 20 from the field. But Virginia Tech would go on to miss 18 of its next 21 shots, and Michigan State didn’t pass up a chance to turn Friday night’s affair into a blowout.
Payne and guard Gary Harris Jr. (19 points) combined to score Michigan State’s final 17 points before halftime as the Spartans went on a 15-3 surge to build a 13-point lead they would never relinquish. Payne capped the sequence with another three-pointer as the buzzer sounded, giving him 20 points at the break.
He celebrated by jawing at Eddie as he sauntered off the floor, and Virginia Tech was unable to cut its deficit below double digits again.
“That was kind of a heart-breaker for us with him stroking all those threes,” Eddie said.