The feel-good story of the Virginia Tech Hokies has regrettably run its course.
After starting the season 7-0 under first-year head coach James Johnson—highlighted by a surprise win over then-No. 15 Oklahoma State—the Hokies are beginning to resemble the team picked to finish at or near the bottom of the ACC.
Southern Conference doormat Georgia Southern, which already owns losses to Elon, Samford and Valparaiso (by 31 points) and is just one year removed from a 17-loss season in the league, pulled off an unimaginable upset on Saturday in Blacksburg. Georgia Southern never looked back after jumping out to an early 8-0 lead, upsetting Virginia Tech, 78-73, to notch the program’s first win over a high-major opponent since 1992
C.J. Reed poured in 22 points for the Eagles—16 in the second half—while Hokies star guard Erick Green led all scorers with 28. Virginia Tech clawed back late, pulling within three with 54 seconds to play, but could get no closer. The Hokies missed their final three outside shot attempts—the story of the night, as VPI finished 6-of-27 from behind the arc—while Georgia Southern’s Cameron Baskerville drained all four of his free throw attempts in the game’s waning seconds to seal the game.
Even at 8-2 and despite the hot start, Virginia Tech is saddled with the same questions now as it was before the season started, when skepticism was abundant. The Hokies are too dependent on three perimeter players—one in particular—and lack a stable inside presence to exploit teams inside. They’re not a great rebounding team and are soft as putty on the defensive end.
Most losses in the non-conference are often non-descript and forgettable, easy to shake off as learning experiences. This one was different. Virginia Tech never held a lead against Georgia Southern. The Hokies trailed from the opening basket against a middling SoCon school that sported its fifth different starting lineup of the season in search of a group that works. Until Saturday, the Eagles hadn’t found one.
Tech hasn’t exactly run a non-conference gauntlet to this point. Johnson’s team has played two quality opponents, beating one and losing to the other. With a neutral court test against Bradley and a road date in Provo with BYU before conference play tips off still to come, a more accurate portrait of these Hokies is forthcoming.
If Saturday’s audition was any indication, the worst, not the best, is yet to come.