BLACKSBURG, Va. — West Virginia sprinted out to a sizable lead at Virginia Tech, only to learn why ESPN calls this a “Tip-off Marathon.”
From up 17 points in the first half to down 10 in the second half, the Mountaineers learned just how quickly momentum and confidence can evaporate on the road, even against a team picked last in the ACC.
The 87-82 loss left West Virginia coach Bob Huggins relying on an old adage when his young team proved unreliable in key situations.
“Like I say all the time, ‘You have to be really dumb to have to lose to learn.’ Why can’t we win and learn?”
A young Virginia Tech team seemingly learned from its upset loss to South Carolina Upstate, with freshmen guards Ben Emelogu (22 points) and Devin Wilson (16 points) keying the comeback after WVU led 29-12.
“I think we got a little careless once we got that lead,” said Mountaineers point guard Juwan Staten. “And once they started making shots, they didn’t stop.”
The gap was 40-24 with 2:54 left in the half when the Hokies (1-1) started their push, closing to 41-36 on Emelogu’s stop-and-pop 3-pointer with 3 seconds left.
The intermission did nothing to slow the surge as Virginia Tech opened the second half scoring eight unanswered.
“They started to get hyped,” said Remi Dibo, whose 17 points off the bench weren’t enough to save WVU (1-1). “They started to play harder than we did, and we can’t let that happen.”
On its way to shooting 60 percent in the second half, Virginia Tech led 55-45 before the Mountaineers finally stabilized. Eron Harris, suffering through a 4-for-17 shooting day that included countless misses on driving attempts in the lane, made two free throws to put WVU up 62-61.
And when Nathan Adrian buried a 3-pointer at the 2:31 mark, West Virginia looked as if it might survive. Yet Virginia Tech quickly retook the lead on Jarell Eddie’s jumper before Cadarian Raines swatted down Staten’s layup—one of 13 blocks for the Hokies.
Sophomore guard Adam Smith (19 points) scored Virginia Tech’s next five to make it 83-79, sending WVU into hurry-up mode. Dibo drained a 3 at the 24-second mark but then had to commit his fifth foul with 16 seconds left. After Smith made two more free throws, West Virginia’s last chance to tie flutered away when a designed play for Adrian went awry and the freshman—just a few steps in front of Huggins—forced a 3-point air ball from the left wing.
“Pass the ball. You didn’t have it. (The play) didn’t work,” said Huggins. “Drive and pitch it to somebody else for a better look. That ball had no chance.”
Along with Dibo’s 5-of-9 touch from 3-point range, West Virginia also received some bench production from guard Gary Browne, who scored 15 on 5-of-8 shooting. (Browne’s last shot, however, was an off-balance, off-target 18-footer coming out of a timeout with WVU trailing 80-77.)
Rehabbing from a shin injury, Terry Henderson played eight minutes in the first half, scoring two points. He did not appear in the second half.
“I tried to play Terry, which I shouldn’t have,” Huggins said. “I put him in a bad spot. You can’t not play for a week-and-a-half and think you’re going to pick up where you left off. It’s not that kind of game.”
While the scouting report on Emelogu was that of a good high school scorer in Texas, he had posted only six points against USC Upstate.
“We didn’t know that much about him, but we definitely found out tonight what kind of shooter he was,” Staten said. “He just got hot, caught fire. It seemed like everything he put was going in.”
The rebounds were even at 43, with Devin Williams grabbing 11 for WVU despite battling foul trouble. The Mountaineers’ second-leading rebounder was Staten (nine), who also handed out seven assists against one turnover. … Freshman forward Brandon Watkins picked up four fouls in three minutes. … West Virginia finished 21-of-33 from the foul line, including 9-of-17 in the second half. Virginia Tech made 30-of-38 overall.