Hokies defeat Clemson in Mike Young’s debut
Landers Nolley II scored a game-high 30 points, and Virginia Tech made all the big plays down the stretch to knock off Clemson 67-60 in an ACC game at Littlejohn Coliseum that marked the season opener for both teams.
The Hokies' performance made a winner of Mike Young in his debut as the Virginia Tech head coach. The victory also marked the 300th over Young's coaching career - 299 of which came during his tenure at Wofford.
After the game, Young downplayed the milestone.
"We're just over there trying to stay out of the way," Young said. "These are good players. It's guys like Wabissa Bede playing his guts out, getting to the top of his jump and blocking a shot at a critical moment and making a nice delivery to Tyrece Radford for a lay-in. Significant, but don't give me a whole lot of credit. I've got good players, and we're going to continue to get better."
Nolley already is pretty good. Playing in front of numerous relatives and friends who made the two-hour drive from his hometown of Atlanta, the redshirt freshman, who sat out last season because of an NCAA-related matter, made 12 of 23 from the floor in his collegiate debut, including four 3-pointers. He scored 18 of those in the first half, enabling the Hokies to stay within striking distance.
In the second half, Clemson led 50-49 after a basket by Aamir Simms with 6:19 remaining, but the Hokies scored the next six points - with the final four coming on a basket by Nolley with 4:59 to go and two free throws with 4:08 remaining. The Hokies never relinquished the lead again.
"Coming in, I didn't expect nothing," Nolley said. "My teammates just looked for me. I hit the open shot. I hit the shot when I got the opportunity and just helped my teammates get our first win.
"It feels amazing. Thanks to my guys. I thank them for everything because, without them, I wouldn't have had nothing."
"About 20 minutes after I got on campus and we worked out," Young said when asked when he realized that Nolley could be a go-to scorer. "He's just one of those guys. You watch him play for a little bit, and 'Whoa!' He's a pretty talented guy. He knows how to put the thing in the bottom of the barrel. But yeah, it didn't take me long. He's just talented in that regard and in a lot of regards. I want to see him rebound better. I want to see him do a lot of things better, and he will. It's really important to him."
Arguably the biggest play in the game came with a little more than a minute to go. Clemson trapped Tech's Hunter Cattoor in the corner, and Cattoor threw a pass that was deflected a couple of times. Wabissa Bede came up with it, and he kicked it ahead to P.J. Horne, who scored on a breakaway dunk and was fouled. Horne made the free throw to give the Hokies a 60-57 lead with 1:03 remaining.
Bede made another big play moments later, blocking a 3-point attempt by Clemson's Al-Amir Dawes. He grabbed the loose ball and pushed it ahead to Tyrece Radford, whose layup with 39 seconds gave the Hokies a 62-57 lead.
Tech then made five of its six free-throw attempts in the final 35 seconds to seal the win - including 3-of-4 by Bede.
"That was a huge win," Bede said. "I'm so happy for the younger guys. This is their first real battle. Some of them just came out of high school - Jalen [Cone] skipped his whole senior year. This was a dogfight today. I was telling them, 'It's going to be a dogfight.' That's the ACC, every single game in the ACC and every single game this year. We're small, and we won the rebounding battle by eight. That was big. I was just happy for them. The main thing is they went out there every single play and fought, and I'm so happy for them."
Nahiem Alleyne added 11 points for the Hokies, who shot just 38.6 percent from the floor - but out-rebounded the bigger Tigers 44-36. Bede finished with seven points, six assists, and eight rebounds.
Tech's starting lineup featured two freshmen - Nolley, a redshirt freshman, and Cattoor, a true freshman
Nolley's 30 points are the most by a Tech freshman in his collegiate debut, breaking the previous mark of 24 set by Nickeil Alexander-Walker in 2017.
Nolley's 30 points are the most by a Tech freshman in any game since Jalen Hudson scored 32 against Wake Forest in the first round of the 2015 ACC Tournament.
Bede's eight rebounds were a team high and tied a career high.
The Hokies now get ready for their home opener, which takes place Friday evening against Coppin State. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., and the game can be watched on ACC Network Extra.