Virginia Tech’s Erick Green scored 35 points against Virginia on Thursday night. That’s more than any Cavaliers opponent since Duke’s J.J. Redick torched them for 40 in 2006. That’s only one less than Florida State’s entire team scored against Virginia on Saturday.
But a career-best from the nation’s leading scorer wasn’t close to enough for the Hokies. Not when his teammates offered minimal assistance, and certainly not when the Cavaliers’ offense purred like a European sports car in overdrive.
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Yes, we know all about Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense, and there were stretches when Virginia blanketed Tech, especially Jarell Eddie. But the story of the Cavaliers’ 74-58 road victory was their offense.
This was the most points they’d scored in regulation against an ACC opponent since a 74-60 win at Maryland two years ago. Virginia shot 51 percent, committed a scant six turnovers and made a season-high 11 3-pointers.
“We’re not a great offensive team. I don’t pretend to be.” Bennett said. “But I want us to be great team that executes and gets as good a looks as possible. Twenty-three (attempted) threes is a lot, but for the most part they were open.”
Before comparing the Cavaliers to the Oklahoma City Thunder, understand that they produced 74 points playing at their standard pace. Entering Thursday, Virginia’s 59.7 possessions per game ranked 344th nationally among 347 teams, according to Ken Pomeroy.
Thursday the Cavaliers had 60 possessions, and they made the most of them with precise passing that produced 21 assists on 26 field goals.
“Us freshmen shared the ball,” Anderson said. “We made the extra pass. It wasn’t really about who was scoring the ball. It was about getting open shots, moving the defense and making the defense work.”
Led by Evan Nolte’s season-high 18, Virginia rookies combined for 42 points. Mike Tobey scored 10 on 5-of-5 shooting in only 15 minutes.
Impressive anywhere, more so in a conference road game and without forward Darion Atkins, whose absence with a shin injury has created opportunity for Nolte.
“They were composed,” Bennett said of the freshmen. “They looked comfortable out there. I liked what I saw from all of them.”
The Cavaliers (13-5, 3-2 ACC) seized control with a 24-2 first-half run that mirrored Miami’s 25-1 binge against Duke on Wednesday. Virginia shot 9-for-10 during the stretch, and the only miss was a Nolte air ball that Tobey caught in flight for an easy layup.
With the Cavaliers leading by double-digits the final 19 minutes, the most compelling issue was Green’s final point total.
“The guy couldn’t miss, man,” said Jontel Evans, an All-ACC defensive team player who checked Green much of the night. “Jeez, it’s amazing. Put some hula hoops on him. Everything was contested.”
Green made 11-of-18 shots, 3-of-6 threes and 10-of-13 free throws. He added a career-high nine rebounds.
“I thought for the most part we made him earn them,” Bennett said. “I was concerned about Eddie.”
Indeed, Eddie is a capable complementary scorer with big-time range, and without him, or surprising contributions from others, Tech (11-7, 2-3 ACC) has little chance. Eddie missed nine of his 11 shots Thursday, including all three from behind the arc.
Much of the credit goes to junior Joe Harris, who not only scored 17 points but also continued to improve defensively.
“They pressured me whenever I got the ball,” Eddie said, “and really closed out when I got shots.”
“He wasn’t very good his first year,” Bennett said of Harris’ defense. “He’s improved year-by-year, and it’s good to see. Much more sound and solid. … We even put him for a stretch on Green. I thought Eddie was really a key in this. … I thought Joe was in his stance, and for the most part he made Eddie shoot contested shots. He didn’t buy the pump fakes.”
Although the Eagles (9-9, 1-4) are struggling, they are dramatically better than last year’s 9-22 squad. Forward Ryan Anderson averages nearly a double-double (16.5 points, 9.4 rebounds), and guard Olivier Hanlan is the ACC’s top-scoring freshman at 13.9 points per game.
Boston College’s four conference losses are by a combined 14 points, and the Eagles have not played since Tuesday’s 64-59 setback at Maryland.
“They shoot the three, they’re quick, and they play four guards,” Bennett said.
But Boston College ranks last among ACC teams in field-goal percentage defense at 44.1 and 3-point percentage defense at 36.4. Might be just the additional fuel Virginia needs for its offensive progress.
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