BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson promised a new era of Hokies basketball, one that featured plenty of fast breaks and a whole lot of fun. Turns out it may have arrived quicker than even he expected.
Virginia Tech ran past Iowa, 95-79, as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge Tuesday night at Cassell Coliseum. It’s the third time this season the Hokies have scored 95 or more points and they suddenly find themselves with a 6-0 record, the program’s best start since 1982-83.
But this was Virginia Tech’s most impressive showing to date, pushing the tempo and imposing its will against the toughest opponent yet. In the process, Johnson and company may have officially served notice to the rest of the ACC that these Hokies could be much better than most expected after being picked to finish 10th in the league this preseason.
“We knew we were a good team. We knew we could play,” said guard Robert Brown, who poured in a season-high 18 points. “It feels really good to be 6-0, especially with people that doubted us. Just showing people that we can play and we’re not a bad team. We’re actually a pretty good team. The feeling is fantastic.”
As has been the case all season, senior point guard Erick Green was the catalyst for Virginia Tech. After being held scoreless for the first ten minutes of the game, he exploded during a 17-1 surge that spanned the end of the first half and the start of the second half.
Coming out of halftime, Green said he looked towards the stands and saw his mother mouth, “Take over.” So the former All-Met from Winchester proceeded to score nine consecutive points to begin the second half and give Virginia Tech a 55-38 lead.
Green finished with a game-high 24 points and five assists, and has now scored 20 or more points in every game this season. About the only thing he did wrong Tuesday night was yell an obscenity after his streak of 37 straight free throws ended midway through the second half.
“I feel confident,” said Green, who apologized for the expletive after the game. “Every time the ball leaves my hand, I feel like it’s gonna go in.”
The Hokies’ big men also responded with their best effort of the year. Forward C.J. Barksdale finished with 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds and center Joey van Zegeren came off the bench to score a career-high 10 points. Virginia Tech won the battle on the glass, 36-30, against the bigger Hawkeyes.
But Iowa didn’t go down without a fight. The Hawkeyes went to a 2-3 zone to cool Green off in the second half and soon embarked on a 16-2 surge of their own and trailed by just three points with 12 minutes left. Forward Aaron White (21 points, 10 rebounds) and guard Roy Devyn Marble (18 points, seven assists) led the charge.
Ultimately, though, the Hokies simply had too much firepower on a night when five players finished in double figures. It wasn’t long before Virginia Tech had reeled off a 12-4 run in response, capped off by a steal and breakaway dunk from Green.
So as the final seconds ticked off the clock and Cassell Coliseum roared its approval, it sure seemed like the run-and-gun Hokies could be onto something very few predicted even a few weeks ago.
“I didn’t think it would be smooth,” Johnson said. “But . . . we got guys that are athletes, guys that can get up the floor. We’re playing to that style and the guys have bought into it.”