Alexander-Walker leads No. 15 Virginia Tech past SC State
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Perhaps it was the snow, or the small crowd in attendance, or semester-ending exams — or maybe a combination of all three — that caused Virginia Tech to get off to a slow start against South Carolina State.
Everyone, that is, except for Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Alexander-Walker scored 19 points to lead No. 15 Virginia Tech to an 81-44 victory over the Bulldogs on Sunday.
He hit 8 of 11 from the floor, including three 3-pointers for the Hokies (8-1), who survived a cold-shooting start to get their third straight win.
“We’re used to having to juggle basketball and school,” Alexander-Walker said. “We’re very diligent in our work. Personally, for me, I didn’t feel like it was a factor because I’m good at separating those two things.”
The sophomore showed that Sunday. The Hokies’ leading scorer coming in (17.9 ppg) had 10 of his points in the first half, with most coming during a 15-minute stretch in which Virginia Tech looked nothing like one of the best shooting teams in the nation. The Hokies entered the game ranked 10th in field-goal percentage (51.4) and fourth in 3-point field-goal percentage (44.8), but they made just one of their first 10 shots from the floor and three of their first 20.
Virginia Tech stayed consistent on defense, however, and made 12 of 15 from the free-throw line until the Hokies could find their shot. They made seven of their final nine in the first half, most of which came on South Carolina State turnovers — they scored 13 points off 10 Bulldog turnovers — and then they buried the Bulldogs under an avalanche of 3-pointers at the start of the second half to pull away.
“I thought the best lesson that we took, particularly in the first half, is all the shots we were missing are primarily all the shots that we make,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. “We were shooting practice shots. We weren’t making them, yet we made 12 free throws, which was the most we had attempted in a half. But we were not offensive-sensitive when we were on defense, and I thought the maturity that our group showed . I thought that was the best part of today’s game.”
Virginia Tech opened the final 20 minutes with a 22-4 run in which it hit six 3-pointers. The spurt ended with two Ty Outlaw 3-pointers from the wing sandwiched around a give-and-go play between Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear Jr. that led to a Blackshear layup. The run pushed the Hokies’ lead to 56-27, and Virginia Tech cruised.
Robinson finished with 16 points and six assists for the Hokies, who shot 62 percent (18 of 29) in the second half and 48.3 percent (28 of 58) for the game. Blackshear added 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Damani Applewhite led South Carolina State (2-9) with 10 points. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers and shot just 34 percent (18 of 53).
Virginia Tech: The Hokies wrapped up their three-game homestand with a third straight blowout win — all by more than 20 points. The Hokies aren’t the deepest team in the country, but they have exhibited incredible balance. Four players scored in double figures against South Carolina State, which marked the eighth time this season that at least four Hokies have done so.
South Carolina State: Picked to finish 10th in the MEAC, the Bulldogs appear to be in for a long season, and somehow, they need to find a way to survive their nonconference slate until conference action starts on Jan 2. They will have played 13 of their first 15 games on the road. Their loss to the Hokies marked their ninth defeat on the road.
The Hokies have won three straight following their one-point loss at Penn State on Nov. 27. Losses by No. 9 Kentucky and No. 12 Wisconsin — both lost in overtime Saturday — could result in the Hokies moving up a spot or two in the national poll.
ROAD TOUGHENS FOR TECH
Virginia Tech lost its only true road game this season thus far, though the Hokies have played three neutral-site games, winning the Charleston Classic in South Carolina by beating then-No. 23 Purdue in the championship game. They next play Washington, which nearly beat No. 1 Gonzaga on Wednesday night, losing 81-79. So the Hokies figure to be challenged.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies face Washington on Saturday in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as part of the Boardwalk Classic.
South Carolina State: The Bulldogs remain on the road, returning to action Tuesday when they face Liberty in Lynchburg.