It was an entertaining night for Hokie Nation, and well timed during the holidays, as Virginia Tech closed out the first half of the season with a 55 point win over Maryland Eastern Shore. Landers Nolley shined again, leading Tech with 18 points and his first double-double of the season. He was awarded his 4th ACC Freshman of the Week honor - ahead of Duke’s Vernon Carey (3 times) and UNC’s Cole Anthony (once).
The Hokies went nine players deep on Sunday getting at least 14 minutes of game time. Wabissa Bede went scoreless on the night, but the big lead allowed Jalen Cone to get 25 minutes to run the offense on his way to an 11-point performance. On an odd night like this one, what can (should) we take away from the game?
1 - Well done to the scheduler
For last year’s team, a more senior side, I’d probably argue the opposite. That team had NCAA Tournament expectations and needed as many tough tests as possible. However, with a young squad and a new head coach, Maryland Eastern Shore was an excellent setup right before ACC play begins.
This was the lone game scheduled between Christmas and New Years Eve, and sat right before a trip to Charlottesville on January 4th. Thus, a 1-13, next-to-last in scoring offense in the nation heading into the game, Maryland Eastern Shore was the perfect opportunity to expand the bench’s minutes and get the team confident heading into a much harder January.
Make it No. 4️⃣@NolleyLanders earns @accmbb Freshman of the Week for the fourth time this season— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) December 30, 2019
• Recorded his first double-double
• Had 18 points & 10 rebounds
• Led us to a 55-point win
» https://t.co/WqA32NJG1Z#StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/6rxwmKohyB
2 - Don’t overly read into this result
However, no one should react too strongly after the 92 to 37 victory. The expectation was that the Hokies would roll in this game, in our Twitter poll this week over 50% of voters thought the Tech defense would limit Maryland Eastern Shore to under 50 points. In fact, VT scored more in each half than the opponent did the entire night.
You still have to play the opponent you have in front of you and the game offered Mike Young a chance to really stretch the amount of time his bench got on the court. Much like the Michigan State win or the 100 points Tech put up against Delaware State, those were great nights, not indicators of changing the season’s expectations. There will still be nights like when Dayton caught fire in Hawaii and offensive struggles such as the Chattanooga game. These are results to focus on the growth of the team and individual players. It’s a building process.
3 - John Ojiako shines as the Tech bench delivers once again
Have you heard this one lately? The Virginia Tech bench outscored the opponent’s bench. How often that is repeated during the upcoming ACC schedule may determine how far this team can go. Hunter Cattoor led the bench with 17 points, 4 rebounds, connecting on 5 of his 7 three point attempts. Cattoor has developed in a dangerous 6th man for the Hokies, and I look forward to seeing how he does against UVA.
But let’s shine the light on the big man John Ojiako. At the start of the year we weren’t sure how much he’d play and fit into Young’s plans in year one. Sunday was Ojiako’s best game across the board - 20 minutes, 15 points (season high), 8 rebounds, hit 5 baskets (season high), connected on 5-of-6 free throws (season high), and 3 blocks (season high). If Ojiako is ready to be a 10-15 minute player against ACC opponents, he will be well ahead of schedule in his development. Sunday was the first game in which Virginia Tech effectively operated with a true big man inside - something a Mike Young guard system can thrive off of.
The Hokies return to action on Saturday, January 4th in the Commonwealth Clash away against UVA. The game will tip off at 2 pm ET.