BLACKSBURG, Va. — Whenever Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson dared to glance down the sideline looking for a point guard Tuesday night, he cringed. Along the bench sat three potential replacements in sport coats and a fourth in uniform, but unavailable to play.
So it’s a good thing when Johnson turned his attention to the floor, he got to watch senior Jarell Eddie have the game of his life.
With the senior on fire from outside, and thriving even when called into emergency duty as Virginia Tech’s backup ballhandler, the Hokies pulled away late for an 81-63 win over Winthrop at Cassell Coliseum.
Eddie finished with a career-high 34 points, going 13 of 18 from the field and 6 of 8 from three-point range. He grabbed seven rebounds and ignited a blistering shooting night by the rest of his teammates. Virginia Tech hit 70 percent of its field goal attempts after halftime and a season-high 60.4 percent for the game.
The performance even left Winthrop Coach Pat Kelsey in awe.
“He scared the bejeebers out of me. He’s open when he’s not open,” he said of Eddie, who had Winthrop’s top defender covering him all game. “It felt like every time he released the ball it was going in.”
More importantly, Eddie came through when it counted most to ensure Virginia Tech (6-3) wouldn’t suffer another upset at home.
After the Eagles (5-2) cut the Hokies’ double-digit halftime lead to 53-51 with just more than eight minutes remaining in regulation, Johnson gave Devin Wilson (11 points, eight assists, five turnovers) a breather and moved Eddie to point guard for several possessions. He proceeded to take over despite playing with a lineup that featured two walk-ons and two big men.
First, he bulled his way into the lane for a floater. The next time down the court, he drove to the free throw line and pulled up for a fadeaway jumper more commonly seen in NBA arenas. By the time Eddie completed a four-point-play — his second of the game — with 5 minutes 36 seconds left in the second half, Virginia Tech was in the midst of a 17-4 surge that blew open a close contest for good.
“When you’re feeling it a little more than other nights, you can take a little crazier shots. I might still get in trouble with film on that,” he said with a laugh in the locker room. “I just made some tough shots, too. It was just one of those nights.”
Forward C.J. Barksdale chipped in 13 points and senior Cadarian Raines, who did not play in Friday’s win over Radford, also emerged from Johnson’s doghouse to score eight points and snag four rebounds. But Eddie was the star whenever the Hokies needed a boost.
During a pregame shoot-around Tuesday, Virginia Tech found out second-leading scorer Adam Smith would not be available after aggravating a calf injury in practice this week. Freshman Ben Emelogu, meanwhile, missed his third straight game due to concussion-like symptoms, so Eddie only got 10 minutes of practice time at point guard before playing the position in a game.
But it didn’t seem like it. After missing his first two shots, Eddie scored 17 consecutive Virginia Tech points during the first half, including a personal 9-0 run, and entered halftime with 20 points.
“He was feeling it, and we needed it,” Raines said. “He did everything.”