BLACKSBURG, Va. — The grin on Erick Green’s face as he strolled to the free throw line to ice away another Virginia Tech victory said it all. With the loudest crowd of the year roaring its approval, the Hokies’ only senior nodded his head to the beat of the noise and flashed the confident smile of a person who had proven a whole lot of skeptics wrong.
A month into a season many predicted would be dismal, Green and company are turning into one of the better stories in college basketball. Those two free throws put the finishing touches on Virginia Tech’s 81-71 upset of No. 15 Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon, the latest triumph in Coach James Johnson’s first season leading the program.
The Hokies are 7-0 for the first time in 30 years, and they got there by ending a 14-game losing streak against ranked nonconference foes that dated from 1995. It’s also the first time Virginia Tech has beaten a ranked nonconference opponent at home since 1978.
“I think people were sleeping on us before the season because of the new coaching change and the players that left, but hopefully we showed people we can play with anybody and that we’re a great team,” said Green after scoring a career-high 28 points and grabbing seven rebounds in just 26 minutes.
The best part of all, though, is that this win was about more than Green. He picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the first half Saturday and didn’t have a field goal the final 16 minutes 53 seconds of the game.
In his place, the Hokies got clutch baskets from guard Robert Brown (18 points), forward Jarell Eddie (15 points, 12 rebounds) and freshman Marshall Wood as part of a 14-4 surge midway through the second half that sent a boisterous crowd of 7,552 at Cassell Coliseum into a frenzy. In the first half, when Johnson shuttled Green in and out of the lineup to avoid picking up his third foul, Virginia Tech was outscored by 12 points, including a 10-0 run as soon as Green left the game.
But the Hokies upped the tempo after halftime, scored 49 points in the second half and outrebounded Oklahoma State by 10. It helped that the Cowboys (5-1) shot 4 of 23 from three-point range.
“That’s a situation that this team hasn’t seen,” Johnson said. “We haven’t played with Erick Green . . . sitting over there beside me. That’s not a comfortable position for me. That’s not a comfortable position for my guys. It took them a minute to realize what we had going on there, but there’s some guys out there that can make plays.”
But even Eddie and Brown could admit it was Green’s play that allowed them to play with such confidence. The afternoon turned into a showcase for the Winchester native, who was the best player on the floor despite facing Oklahoma State’s NBA draft prospects, freshman guard Marcus Smart (18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and sophomore forward Le’Bryan Nash (18 points).
For a third consecutive contest, and the second time this week, Green went on his own personal barrage with the Hokies on the ropes early in the second half. After falling behind by seven, he scored 10 straight Virginia Tech points that deadlocked the score at 49. Oklahoma State Coach Travis Ford even called Green one of the top five point guards in the country after the game.
“I just took over,” he said.
Green then re-emerged late to hit six clutch free throws that barely touched the rim, part of a 27-for-33 performance by Virginia Tech at the foul line.
More importantly, though, it provided his teammates with more proof that these Hokies are no fluke.
“I think anything is possible. 8-0, 9-0, 10-0 is possible,” Eddie said.