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It is quite common to overreact to the first game of a sports season (the court turns your attention to the Virginia Tech-Florida State football game last year as a prime piece of evidence). But with that warning issued, you can’t help but be impressed with Game 1 of the Mike Young era.
He clearly knows how to make an entrance.
The Hokies stunned Clemson 67-60 on the road in an Atlantic Coast Conference game last night, and I doubt even those wearing the darkest shades of orange and maroon glasses thought that was possible.
The Hokies just don’t win in basketball at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum. Last year’s team came to Littlejohn ranked No. 9 in the country and left with a 59-51 loss. In the last 10 years, they’ve only beaten Clemson on the road once – an 82-81 win on Jan. 22, 2017, and that game was moved to Greenville because of renovations being made to Littlejohn.
For the Hokies, they have consistently put the “L” in Littlejohn.
Then there was the matter of Young as the new coach. Many have been optimistic while silently thinking “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Gone is last year’s carpetbagger coach, and at one point most of the team seemed gone too, as several starters last night occupied at one time during the year both the dorms on campus and a little place called the “transfer protocol.”
So in a best-case scenario, the team would play hard, perhaps one player would emerge as a centerpiece and go-to guy the Hokies could build on, and hopefully the game would be close.
What happened even exceeded that.
That one player who emerged – Landers Nolley – showed he could be a horse that the Hokies could ride, scoring 30 points, the highest amount in school history for a freshman in his first game. Nolley should have been eligible last year, but problems with the NCAA sidelined his debut until last night.
As I noted on Twitter, “97.9 percent of Hokies watching this game with Clemson are all thinking "if we only had Landers Nolley last year." The other 2.1 percent are drunk :)”
Others emerged. I had to go find a roster after Nahiem Alleyne hit a three pointer, as several times I found myself thinking “who is THAT guy?” This team at one point only had 4 players on the roster, so Young’s biggest task wasn’t to recruit stars, but come up with bodies to fill out a team. Techsideline.com's Chris Coleman tweeted that "Per Ken Pomeroy's metrics, out of the 176 college basketball teams that have played so far, Virginia Tech ranks No. 170 in terms of experience."
Some of these guys could have come out of witness protection for all I knew.
Alleyne scored 11 points I didn’t expect as an added bonus. Jalen Cone showed quickness and hit a big 3. Wabissa Bede did not penetrate the lane like he did last season, but scored 7 and came up with a big blocked shot in the final minute to clinch the win.
Young showed the world that yes, he can coach, no matter the stage. The Hokies ran an offense that acknowledged it had no big men and focused on the 3-point shot. In the final 2 minutes, when it appeared the Hokies might honor a time-worn tradition in Blacksburg and fold in a road game, he called a timeout. He calmed everyone, then ran a set play that worked for a bucket that established breathing room.
In short, you could see his coaching all throughout the game.
Then he brought home a W.
Now before getting too excited about the win, there are things to consider. Clemson’s shooting was dreadful, as they seemed very happy to keep jacking up 3-pointers with pinpoint inaccuracy, something that greatly aided the Hokies. And while Nolley and Alleyne were nice surprises, the starting backcourt of Hunter Cattoor, Isiah Wilkins and Bede combined for only 11 points. Cattoor, who came with Young from Wofford, scored 0 points and had 0 assists.
That’s not going to cut it in the future against a good opponent.
But after a summer of fans bemoaning the effects of a Buzz-cut, it was a hugely positive surprise for the fanbase to win a league game on the road on the first night. With home games against Coppin State, USC Upstate, Lehigh and Delaware State coming up, this team has a chance to grow more comfortable with Young’s offense and possibly be 5-0 before going to Maui and play Michigan State.
It also could pay big dividends on the recruiting trail. You couldn’t help but be aware in the last couple of weeks, a big man named P.J. Hall had his final two as Virginia Tech and Clemson, and picked Clemson. I thought that was predictable, because if I was his Dad, I’d see a new coach at Virginia Tech and have real questions about where the team was going versus a more stable Clemson. Nobody wants to play on a team that’s several years away from winning.
Last night may have answered some of those questions and caused some recruits to now have a more open mind.
Which may be the biggest win of all.