BLACKSBURG – Erick Green scored 21 points to pace three players in double figures, as the Hokies made a winner of head coach James Johnson in his debut, downing East Tennessee State 80-62 on Saturday at Cassell Coliseum in the season opener for both teams.
Johnson replaced Seth Greenberg in May after the school terminated Greenberg following nine seasons. Johnson had been an assistant under Greenberg for five seasons before leaving in April for what turned out to be a three-week stint as an assistant at Clemson.
“It [the win] means a lot, but it means more for me for the team to come out and play and execute and do the things we’ve been working on since July 6,” Johnson said. “I like what I saw out there from the team. There are some things we have to work on and get better. But it meant a lot that they came out and played hard. They’ve worked hard and prepared themselves for this day, so it’s good that they were able to get the win.”
The Hokies’ first-half shooting was just too much for ETSU to overcome, as Tech shot 56.5 percent from the floor (13 of 23) in running out to a 15-point lead at the break. The Buccaneers were within eight points with about six minutes left in the first half, but Robert Brown hit two 3-pointers sandwiched around a Jarell Eddie 3-pointer to give the Hokies a 15-point bulge, and the Buccaneers never recovered.
Green scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half and Brown added 13 for the Hokies, hitting three 3-pointers. Brown, coming off foot surgery this summer, finished with 16, while Eddie had 17 points and 10 rebounds for his second career double-double.
Nearly everything went right for Johnson in his debut. He planned to have his team play a more up-tempo style, and the Hokies scored 80 points – something they did just three times a year ago. They shot a respectable 46.6 percent from the floor and made 10 of 25 from beyond the 3-point arc. They also dished out 19 assists (six by Green) compared to 10 turnovers.
“I think we’re going to score more,” Green said. “I honestly thought we could score in the 80s against them tonight, almost the 90s. We’re going to play fast, no matter what. That’s Coach Johnson’s style of play, and if not, you’re going to sit down.
“I didn’t think we played as fast as we should have. But it being the first game, people having some butterflies and things like that, I thought we played pretty well.”
The only negative, to be nitpicking, was rebounding. The Hokies got out-rebounded by the smaller Buccaneers 39-37.
“I don’t know if it’ll be an issue all year,” Johnson said of the rebounding. “There are things we need to work on, and rebounding is one of them. I didn’t like the way we were on the backboards against those guys. I think that’s an area we can improve on. The guys showed they could come back and rebound, which we did in the second half. Cadarian Raines rebounded better in the second half and Marshall Wood rebounded better. We can get better at it.”
Raines scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds for the Hokies, while Wood, a freshman, grabbed six rebounds and scored five points.
Freshman Lester Wilson came off the bench to lead the Buccaneers with 20 points. ETSU, which trailed by as many as 25 in the second half, shot just 38.7 percent from the floor (24 of 62).
Tech will have a quick turnaround for its next game. The Hokies take on Rhode Island on Monday night at Cassell Coliseum. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.
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