BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech point guard Erick Green was at the free throw line Monday night, hoping to put the finishing touches on another victory and unaware he had just tied his career high in points the previous possession.
Forward Jarell Eddie then approached him with a question: “Are you going for 30?”
The quip made Green lose his focus and he proceeded to clank both shots off the back rim. The senior did not score another point, not that it mattered after the Hokies cruised to a relatively easy 69-50 victory over Rhode Island at Cassell Coliseum.
The Winchester native was once again the best player on the floor as first-year Coach James Johnson improved to 2-0 in his coaching career. It’s a role Green will have to reprise all year given Johnson’s desire to play fast and a roster that features just eight scholarship players.
The two-time All Met finished with a game-high 25 points and four assists, further confirmation that Johnson’s up-tempo attack is a style that could make Green one of the most dangerous guards in the ACC this year.
“I feel free. Coach Johnson is letting me play my game,” Green said after scoring more than 20 points in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. He had 21 points and six assists in Virginia Tech’s season-opening win over East Tennessee State.
“He’s letting me do me. I have no limits.”
For the second time in three days, though, Green got plenty of help. Forward Cadarian Raines recorded his first career double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, and guard Robert Brown chipped in 12 points and four assists.
The Hokies also locked down on the defensive end, forcing a shot clock violation on the first possession of the game and jumping out to a 13-0 lead they never relinquished. Rhode Island (0-2) shot just 33.9 percent from the field, including 1 for 21 from three-point range.
Virginia Tech turned many of those misses into transition baskets, scoring 18 fast-break points and launching plenty of shots before the 35-second shot clock reached single digits.
“We want to take early shots in the possession that are good shots for us,” Johnson said. “I want to push the ball the ball up the floor.”
But there’s little doubt about who Johnson’s biggest threat will be over the coming months, and it was evident during the one moment Monday’s game was close.
After Virginia Tech hit six of its first eight shots, Rhode Island slowly worked its way back within striking distance even though Green poured in 17 points in the first half alone. A layin by Rams guard Xavier Munford with two minutes remaining before halftime capped an 8-0 run and cut the Hokies’ lead to 28-24.
Johnson then called a timeout and drew up a play to set Green up for a three-pointer. The shot hit nothing but net, and Green did him one better by nailing another three-pointer on Virginia Tech’s next possession. A jumper by Eddie finished a quick 8-0 run that put the Hokies ahead by 12 entering the locker room, and they were never threatened again.
“Every team needs a guy like Erick Green: Somebody to go to when we need a bucket,” Raines said. “We need him. We need him to score points.”