BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Losses in their last two games had Virginia Tech eager to get back on the court.
The Hokies got run out of the Richmond Coliseum on Dec. 21 in an 82-52 loss to VCU, and then came home a week later and blew an eight-point lead in the final five minutes against UNC-Greensboro, eventually taking a bad loss, 55-52.
Coach James Johnson challenged his team to respond Tuesday night, and they didn’t waste much time doing it.
Jarell Eddie scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half and the Hokies used runs of 19-7 and 17-3 before halftime to take command against undermanned, overmatched Maryland-Eastern Shore, eventually drubbing the Hawks 82-66.
“Before the game, we said it was a gut check just to see how we were going to respond to losing the last two games,” freshman point guard Devin Wilson said after scoring 16 points. “I think we came out and responded pretty well.”
The Hokies did it also knowing that their season takes a decidedly significant turn going forward. While they don’t play for another week, their next game will be against No. 2 Syracuse, the 9 p.m. start marking the real start of ACC play.
Fixing their mindset was one of the goals against the Hawks.
“Playing a game like this is a confidence builder for us going into those tougher games,” Eddie said. “We were able to come out and really impose our will. We wanted to build our confidence going into ACC play.”
The first run for the Hokies (8-5) allowed them to build on a 7-6 lead, and the latter, spanning the last 6 1/2 minutes of play, gave them a 46-23 lead at halftime.
C.J. Barksdale came off the bench and scored the first five points in the 19-7 burst, which gave the Hokies a 26-13 edge. After Louis Bell hit a 3-pointer and KyRee Jones made a pair of free throws for the Hawks, Joey van Zegeren’s free throw and alley oop dunk sparked the burst to end the half. Wilson, sometimes a reluctant shooter, had six in that run.
“After the last game, coach told me he needed me to be more aggressive,” Wilson said.
Virginia Tech built its lead as high as 27 points in the second half.
Troy Snyder and Jones led the Hawks (2-9) with 15 points each and Bell had 14.
The Hawks, coached by one-time Virginia Tech coach Frankie Allen and seemingly headed for their 20th consecutive losing season, lost their 24th consecutive road game and their 27th straight on the road against a non-conference opponent. The string dates back to a victory against Navy on Nov. 11, 2010.
Allen, who compiled a 56-61 record at Virginia Tech from 1987-91, had not been back to Cassell Coliseum as a head coach since, and joked afterward that he hoped his team was able to help the Hokies in their preparations for Syracuse.
“We tried to play them some zone to maybe help their preparation for Syracuse,” Allen said, “but our zone is nowhere near what they’re going to see against the Orange.”
The game, which started two hours after Virginia Tech kicked off in the Sun Bowl against UCLA, was played in front of a very sparse crowd. The school said 4,179 tickets were sold, but no more than 1,200 people actually turned out.
The Hokies played without guard Adam Smith, who they are trying to get healthy from a nagging left calf strain, perhaps in time for their ACC game against No. 2 Syracuse at home on Tuesday night. Johnson said he could not have played.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)