BLACKSBURG, Va. — As he tossed and turned in his bed Friday night, Virginia Tech freshman Robert Brown decided to put some practice film on the television, hopeful that his nerves would subside before the Hokies’ season opener the next day. When he woke up at 7 a.m., Brown thought back to how the team made a summer trip to Canada to play exhibition games and participated in two closed-door scrimmages earlier this month.
“But that wasn’t a real college game,” a smiling Brown said after the Hokies grinded out a 64-53 win over East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum.
Brown and Virginia Tech’s talented group of freshmen were the main attractions on this day as Hokies fans got their first glimpse at a five-member recruiting class deemed to be the best in school history. The top prospect of the bunch, 6-foot-8 forward Dorian Finney-Smith, didn’t disappoint, either.
The Portsmouth, Va., native finished with 10 points, 16 rebounds and five assists, becoming the first Virginia Tech freshman since Jeff Allen in 2008 to record a double-double in his debut performance.
“He affects the game so many different ways,” Coach Seth Greenberg said of Finney-Smith, affectionately known as “Doe-Doe” to teammates and coaches. “He’ll make shots, but he plays without any ego.”
As if to prove Greenberg’s point, Finney-Smith noted that “I didn’t even realize I had 16 rebounds” when a reporter brought up his statistics.
For one game at least, it seems the preseason predictions that these Hokies would be more balanced without the departed Allen and guard Malcolm Delaney could be true. Six Virginia Tech players finished with at least seven points.
Sophomore Tyrone Garland, who started in place of an injured Erick Green (strained Achilles’ tendon), led the team with 13 points and Brown added 12 second-half points. Senior Dorenzo Hudson, playing his first game since foot surgery ended his season prematurely 11 months ago, had nine points.
After making the first shot of the contest, Virginia Tech didn’t lead again until freshman C.J. Barksdale helped the Hokies close the first half on a 9-0 run by scoring all five of his points in a four-minute span. Virginia Tech never trailed after halftime, but the Buccaneers closed to within four with less than two minutes remaining in the game after forward Lukas Poderis tipped in a missed shot to cap a 9-2 East Tennessee State run.
But Brown and Garland each hit a pair of free throws and Garland sealed the victory when he stripped East Tennessee State’s Marcus Dubose as he went up for a three-pointer with less than 42 seconds remaining.
It was a big moment for Garland, a 6-foot-1 scorer who didn’t see much playing time last season. The Philadelphia native said Saturday was the first time since his sophomore year of high school that he played extended minutes as a point guard. It showed at times, as he finished with seven turnovers, “but I just played through it ,” Garland said. “Coach told me to keep playing and I just got confidence in myself through coach.”
As for Green, he warmed up and sat on the bench in uniform, but Greenberg wouldn’t say whether the 6-3 point guard would be available for Virginia Tech’s game against Monmouth on Monday or a potential matchup with George Mason on Tuesday as part of the NIT Season Tip-off.