Virginia Tech pushes past Alabama A&M 65-55
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Virginia Tech basketball coach Buzz Williams isn't afraid to make bold changes, as he attempts to rebuild a basketball program that has finished last in the ACC in each of the past three seasons.
The latest example came Sunday when he inserted a walk-on into his starting lineup.
Christian Beyer scored a career-high 13 points to lift the Hokies to a 65-55 victory over Alabama A&M, helping them snap a two-game losing streak in the process.
Beyer, now in his third season with the program, was making just the second start of his career and the first this season for the Hokies (5-4). Beyer hit 5-of-7 from the floor, 3-of-4 from the free-throw line and grabbed nine rebounds in 27 minutes. He tied his career high with nine points in the first half alone.
''I kind of had an idea earlier (Sunday) morning, maybe (Saturday) night based on practices,'' Beyer said of getting the starting role. ''He just kind of threw me in there. It was exciting. I'm used to being thrown in there when energy isn't where it needs to be or they need help on the boards. I saw it as a chance to show Coach Buzz that I'm that backup guy if he ever needs a boost off the bench.''
Williams started Beyer and former walk-on Will Johnston - a senior who received a scholarship two seasons ago - along with Adam Smith. Normal starters Devin Wilson, Malik Muller and Shane Henry came off the bench.
''We've got to figure it out,'' Williams said of the lineup changes. ''We've got to figure out how to play better. We've got to figure out who plays best together. We've got to figure out who plays hardest the longest. That's not any name specifically. That's just our program. We have to establish that regardless of the final score and regardless of the opponent.''
The Hokies, coming off a 68-66 home loss to Radford last Sunday, struggled with Alabama A&M until late in the first half. Virginia Tech used a 20-0 run spanning both halves to pull away and never look back. The Hokies scored 17-straight points to end the first half, holding Alabama A&M scoreless over the final 5:49 before the break.
Johnston hit a 3-pointer to open the second half for the Hokies before Michael Hutchins scored for the Bulldogs. Five different Hokies scored in the run, led by Justin Bibbs' seven points.
The Bulldogs (1-6), picked to finish seventh in the SWAC, turned the ball over on five of their final seven possessions of the first half. Alabama A&M hit just one field goal in the final 11:09 - a 3-pointer by Matthew Cotton with 5:49 left in the opening half. The Bulldogs shot just 31.8 percent (7 of 22) in the first 20 minutes.
Virginia Tech led by as many as 19 points in the second half. Alabama A&M cut the lead to 61-55 with 1:50 remaining on a free throw by Rakiya Battle, but the Hokies got back-to-back baskets by Muller and Satchel Pierce to pull away.
''We took our foot off the gas pedal,'' said Bibbs, who played mostly point guard in the revamped lineup. ''We should have kept attacking like we did in the first half. We turned it on at the end, but we should have won by 20.''
Alabama A&M's Ladarius Tabb led all scorers with 20 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
Bibbs finished with 11 points and four assists for the Hokies, who committed just eight turnovers and shot nearly 50 percent (25 of 52 from the floor).
Alabama A&M fell to 0-5 on the road this season, a string that includes losses to Dayton and Georgia Tech . The Bulldogs were playing their third road game of a six-game road string . Nicholas West, the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer at 11 points per game coming in, finished with a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) before fouling out with 1:07 left.
Virginia Tech point guard Devin Wilson did not start in the game, marking the first time in the sophomore's career that he has not started for the Hokies . Beyer's previous career high was nine points versus BYU in 2012 . The Hokies came into the game as one of the nation's worst free-throw shooting teams (57.5 percent, 88 of 153) and made just 10-of-20 from the line against Alabama A&M.
Alabama A&M travels to Wisconsin for a Friday night game against Marquette.
Virginia Tech is at home against The Citadel on Saturday.