After Erick Green knocked down a jumper midway through the first half to give Virginia Tech a seven-point lead Thursday night, forcing a timeout from Virginia coach Tony Bennett, Cavaliers guard Joe Harris shared a few quick thoughts with assistant coach Ritchie McKay.
Green’s shot gave Tech its largest lead of the game and brought the Cassell Coliseum crowd to its feet. While Bennett talked about avoiding defensive breakdowns during the timeout, Harris’ pulse never raised a beat.
“Coach McKay came over to me and was like, ‘Settle down’” Harris said. “I looked at him and was like, ‘It’s a long game. We’ve got nothing to worry about.’”
His assessment was dead on.
Just moments after his composed reply to McKay, Harris nailed a 3-pointer to ignite a 24-2 run that helped lead U.Va. to a 74-58 victory at Tech, which didn’t get much of anything offensively outside of a career night from Green. It was U.Va.’s third consecutive win in Blacksburg, and its fourth win in its last five outings against Tech.
Green scored a career-high 35 points and grabbed a career-best nine rebounds. He was 11 of 18 shooting from the floor, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range. No player in the ACC has scored more points this season in a game than Green’s 35.
U.Va. (13-5 overall, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) got a career-high 18 points from freshman Evan Nolte, who started for a second straight game in place of the injured Darion Atkins. Harris chipped in with 17 points.
Though his team is known for its defense, having surrendered less than 50 points in eight games and entering Thursday’s game with the nation’s second-best scoring defense (50.6 points per game), Bennett’s shooters were the catalysts against Tech.
“We just try to take good shots,” Bennett said. “When you shoot it like that, that helps. We’re not a great offensive team. I don’t pretend to be, but I want us to be a great team that executes and gets as good looks as possible…We try to play to our strengths. That gives us the best chance. If that means we’re scoring 50, 60 or 70, we’re going to take what the defense gives us.”
During U.Va.’s enormous run, Harris had a trio of 3-pointers and Nolte added two of his own. Nolte made 5 of 9 shots from 3-point range for the game, while Harris connected on 4 of 6 from distance.
“I don’t really view it as a challenge,” said Nolte of his expanded role. “I kind of view it as coming in and playing the same way as I played when I was coming off the bench. Now, it’s just more minutes.
“It was the same kind of offense (against Tech). We tweaked it a little bit a couple weeks ago, so I really like that now, but (Thursday night) we just got the open guy the shot.”
U.Va. shot 51 percent from the floor, while Tech made 44 percent of its shots. U.Va. knocked down 47.8 percent of its 3-point shots (made a season-high 11 shots from 3-point range on 23 attempts).
Green did his part on the offensive end, but his teammates didn’t provide much assistance. Taking Green out of the equation, Tech (11-7, 2-3) was 8 of 25 from the floor.
No other player on Tech’s roster contributed more than Jarell Eddie’s nine points. He missed his first seven shots from the floor. Tech’s Robert Brown, who entered the game averaging 10.2 points per game, was held scoreless on 0 of 3 shooting.
“If your shot’s not falling, so what?” Green said. “Play defense. Rebound. Get a steal. Everybody is caught up in scoring. If it’s not your night, you’ve got to do something else. That’s what great players do. I think that some of these guys – we’ve got to realize, man, if your shot’s not on, you’ve got to do other things besides score the ball.”
U.Va.’s run helped it jump out to a 34-25 halftime advantage. In the second half, its lead would never fall under eight, but Tech squandered a few chances to grab some momentum.
With U.Va. leading 49-37, Tech’s Joey van Zegeren took a feed from Green on a rare Hokies fast break and sailed in for a one-handed jam with 10:32 left, but van Zegeren’s high-flying play was negated when he was called for a charge. U.Va.’s Doug Browman drew the foul, much to the chagrin of the home crowd.
Two minutes later, Tech trailed 52-42, but it had possession and a chance to cut the deficit to single digits. Instead, C.J. Barksdale lost control of the ball under the basket and turned it over.
Nolte hit a 3-pointer on the other end to push U.Va.’s lead to 55-42 with 7:54 remaining. U.Va.’s lead never got under 11 points the rest of the way.
“I liked what I saw of (Nolte),” Bennett said. “He’s a smart player. He didn’t shoot it well in the last game (against Florida State), but he did some other things. (On Thursday night), he was in rhythm and his shot was dialed in.”
While Nolte was the brightest of U.Va.’s freshmen, the Cavaliers also got significant contributions from fellow freshmen Justin Anderson, who had 11 points, a team-high six assists, one turnover and three steals in 24 minutes off the bench, and Mike Tobey, who had 10 points on 5 of 5 shooting.
Anderson was also mixed into the plans as a change of pace and length option against Green, who was primarily guarded by Bethel High graduate Jontel Evans. Browman and Teven Jones also tried to check Green, who scored 21 points in the second half.
“He made a couple moves and got his shot,” Bennett said. “He really can shoot over – even shot a little over Jontel, but Jontel is usually a little more physical in there. I was concerned with (Green) getting his rhythm, because he can just rise up, fade back a little bit and his touch is so good. There were some concerns, and that’s why we thought we might have to go with a bigger guy on him.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun