BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Virginia Tech spent the entirety of its past two practices working on its defense.
So, of course, the Hokies put on a clinic on offense Wednesday evening.
“It’s counterintuitive,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams admitted. “It’s a paradox. It’s ironic.”
Getting a career-high 32 points from point guard Justin Robinson, the hot-shooting Hokies notched an 85-75 victory over NC State.
Robinson connected on 11 of 17 from the floor, including two 3-pointers, for the Hokies (17-7, 6-5 ACC), who bounced back from Saturday’s loss to Miami and have now won four of their past five games. Kerry Blackshear Jr. added 18 points for Virginia Tech.
Coming off an 84-75 loss to the Hurricanes - their third ACC loss at home this season - the Hokies responded by shooting a sizzling 63.5 percent from the floor (33 of 52). That field-goal percentage was Virginia Tech’s best against an ACC foe this season.
“We haven’t run one play since the last time I saw you (the media),” Williams said. “But I think when you’re trying defensively to do the right things and you’re going against what we were doing, you understand the value of what you want to do offensively. I’ve probably been too pretty and too cute, and ‘Oh, look at what we’ve done offensively and look at all these numbers.’
“I need to do a lot better job. Really thankful for how we play offensively, but I really think it’s because of what we did defensively.”
Virginia Tech took control in the first half, using a 16-3 run and taking a 41-26 lead on Robinson’s basket with 2:55 left in the half. The Hokies shot 64.5 percent in the first half (20 of 31) despite making just one 3-pointer and led 47-34 at halftime - the second-most points allowed by NC State in a half this season.
“I just think, us giving away some at home (the ACC losses at home), meant it was big for us to win tonight,” Robinson said. “I just think we’re back on track. We’re all in the right mindset, and we had great energy on offense and defense. Our tempo was good, and for us to win at home was big.”
The Wolfpack (16-8, 6-5), who had four wins over teams in the top 20 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) coming in, saw their three-game winning streak snapped and lost for just the third time this season when scoring more than 70 points. They trailed the entire second half, coming as close as 61-55 on a 3-pointer by Sam Hunt with 10:52 remaining, but getting no closer than seven the rest of the way.
Very little went right for the Wolfpack, as they committed 15 turnovers and shot just 43.5 percent (27 of 62), but the bigger issue was first-half foul trouble to top scorer Omer Yurtseven, who picked up two fouls less than five minutes into the game and sat for the next 9:46. The 7-footer returned to the game with the Wolfpack trailing by 12, but less than two minutes later, picked up his third foul and returned to the bench.
But NC State coach Kevin Keatts refused to use that as the excuse for the loss.
“We didn’t guard the ball tonight,” Keatts said. “Obviously, if you know me, I take pride in us getting stops, and we didn’t guard the ball, so we’ll get better.”
Yurtseven led the Wolfpack with 20 points, while Markell Johnson added 15 points and 10 assists. Torin Dorn, the Wolfpack’s second-leading scorer coming in at 13.4 points per game, finished with just four and saw his streak of scoring in double figures end at six games.
NC State: The Wolfpack still have opportunities to bolster their NCAA Tournament chances, but they desperately need to improve their defense down the stretch. They have the ACC’s worst field-goal percentage defense, and it showed against Virginia Tech, which constantly drove to the basket and scored with ease.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies could not afford to lose another league home game, especially considering their tough late-season slate, and didn’t. For the time being, they’re in the NCAA Tournament discussion, but they have arguably the league’s toughest remaining schedule, with two games against Duke and one each against Virginia, Clemson and Louisville.
ROBINSON CONTINUES HOT STRETCH
Robinson is making a late push for All-ACC recognition, as he scored in double figures for the 11th straight game. He is averaging 18.1 points per game in that stretch and shooting 50.4 percent from the floor (40.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc).
“I thought he was the difference in the game,” Keatts said. “We couldn’t keep him out of the paint.”
WILSON WITH THE RARE START
Williams made a lineup change for this game, starting senior Devin Wilson instead of struggling guard Ahmed Hill. The senior scored six points and dished out an assist in just his fourth start of the season. He played 24 minutes - his most in ACC play.
“I thought Devin Wilson was incredible,” Williams said. “Really helps us stay connected in what we’re trying to do defensively.”
NC State: The Wolfpack returns home for a rematch against North Carolina on Saturday. NC State knocked off the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Jan. 27.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies play at rival Virginia on Saturday - and the Cavaliers will have the extra motivation of possibly moving to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll next week following Villanova’s loss Wednesday night.
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