BLACKSBURG, Va. -- For Georgia Southern coach Charlton Young, this season has been a work in progress in terms of chemistry.
Before the season, forward Tyrone Brown ran into legal trouble and left the team. Guard Jelani Hewitt ran into academic trouble and has sat out the entire first semester, suspended indefinitely.
Add in the fact that top guard C.J. Reed has battled nagging knee and ankle injuries throughout the year, and it's taken some time for the Eagles to develop a winning chemistry.
It all came together in an unlikely place Saturday, as Georgia Southern stunned Virginia Tech 78-73 for the Eagles' first win over a power-conference team in 20 years and their first victory ever against an ACC opponent.
“We've had some chemistry issues on our team, and we've made some adjustments in personnel,” Young said. “Guys have bought into their roles. … We're a different team. We've got two starters gone, two starters that were reserves and two guys who probably wouldn't have been playing trying to get in the rotation.”
Reed scored 22 points and freshman Cleon Roberts added 20 for the Eagles (4-5), who won a non-conference road game for just the third time in the last six years. GSU had beaten just one Division I opponents in six tries this year, a win at Kennesaw State that was GSU's first road non-league win since Dec. 2, 2006.
“It's huge, but at the same time, we know that the biggest goal is to win the (Southern Conference),” Reed said. “This could help us in preparing for that. Knowing we can beat a team of this caliber, then we can beat the teams in our conference like Davidson and College of Charleston.”
The Eagles hit a season-high 11 3-pointers, outrebounded the Hokies 41-38 and led wire-to-wire. Georgia Southern scored the game's first eight points to set the tone for the stunning result.
Virginia Tech (8-2) pulled within two several times in the first half but could never catch the Eagles. After a Tech turnover and foul with 1.8 seconds left in the half, Roberts hit a pair of free throws to give the Eagles a 35-27 lead at the break.
Roberts and Reed helped the Eagles open the second half on a 7-0 run to extend the lead to 42-27, and the Hokies fought uphill the rest of the way.
“I told the team, the other team is trying to win too,” Hokies coach James Johnson said. “They've got the momentum, they've got the lead on the road, they're feeling good about themselves. We told the team they were going to come out with a lot of confidence, ready to play.”
The Eagles pushed the lead to 16 at one point before the Hokies made one last surge, getting as close as three on Jarell Eddie's 3-pointer with 54 seconds to play.
The Hokies got a defensive stop on their next possession, but Erick Green missed a game-tying 3-pointer with 19 seconds left. GSU's Cameron Baskerville hit two free throws after being fouled, and Green quickly answered with a layup with 14.8 left to cut the GSU lead to 76-73. Baskerville hit two more free throws, and Green missed a shot in the lane with less than 10 seconds to play, and Georgia Southern escaped with the upset.
Green scored 28 points to lead the Hokies, marking the 10th straight game he's scored at least 20 points. Eddie added 21.
“We're a little hurt by it. We weren't expecting to lose this game at all, especially at home,” Eddie said. “But they made a lot of tough shots and they were able to get the win. They're a good team. It's not embarrassing at all. We're all college basketball players. Everybody can play. But we definitely wanted to get that win.”
Notes: This game was part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic, which continues next week at the Orleans Arena. Tech will face Bradley next Friday in the event; Georgia Southern will meet Mississippi Valley State. … Georgia Southern's Reed is playing for his third Division I school. The guard spent three years at Bethune-Cookman before transferring to Central Florida, but he transferred again after UCF was penalized with NCAA sanctions. … Virginia Tech had won the previous five series meetings, all in Blacksburg.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun