BLACKSBURG – Erick Green scored 23 points and Marquis Rankin added a career-high 10 to lead Virginia Tech past Mississippi Valley State 70-49 in the opening round of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic at Cassell Coliseum on Monday night.
With the win, the Hokies moved to 8-1 overall and rebounded from a stinging, one-point defeat at West Virginia on Saturday. The Delta Devils fell to 0-6 overall.
The Hokies came out sluggish in the early going, falling behind the Delta Devils 22-20 after Mississippi Valley State’s Matt Smith scored the second of back-to-back baskets with 6:28 left in the first half. But Green’s two free throws started a 10-0 run, and the Hokies never trailed again. He scored six of the 10 points in that run.
“We came out slow,” Green said. “We didn’t come out with no enthusiasm or energy or anything like that. We came out flat, and they (Mississippi Valley State) stayed in the game. I’m not taking anything away from Mississippi Valley State. They’re a good team. We just came out flat.
“Maybe we overlooked them … maybe it was the loss on Saturday (to West Virginia). I can’t lie. These past two days, I’ve been angry that we let that one get away. But we’ve got to let it go and move on. I don’t think we moved on until the second half.”
The Hokies took control with a 10-2 run to end the first half and an 8-2 run to start the second half – an 18-4 run total. A jumper by C.J. Barksdale ended the run with 15:57 remaining, giving the Hokies a 38-26 lead, and the Delta Devils got no closer than 10 points the rest of the game. Virginia Tech went on to lead by as many as 23 points.
The Hokies started hitting the boards in the second half and turned up the defensive pressure. The Hokies got out-rebounded by seven in the first half (24-17), but out-rebounded Mississippi Valley State 51-45 for the game. They also held the Delta Devils to just 25.7 percent shooting from the floor (18 of 70).
“We had a little sweet talk at halftime,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said. “Just a little sweet talk.
“Our guys know the deal. I don’t have to do a lot with this group. We looked at the stat sheet and said, ‘Alright guys, here’s where we’ve got to do a better job.’ That’s what we did. I thought our defense was pretty good. Our initial defense has been good. It’s been the second-chance opportunities that have hurt us (this season).”
Green hit 8 of 13 from the floor for the game and all six of his free-throw attempts. He has scored more than 20 points in all nine games this season for the Hokies, becoming the first Virginia Tech player to score at least 20 points in the first nine games of a season since 1989-90 when former star Bimbo Coles opened the season by scoring 20 or more in the first nine games.
Rankin, whose previous career high was eight points, hit 3 of 4 from the floor, including a 3-pointer. He also hit all three of his free-throw attempts. Behind him, the Hokies’ reserves scored 29 points.
“I had a big talk with him (on Sunday),” Johnson said. “I told him he needed to step up and the team needed him. He responded, and that’s huge for our team and big for Marquis and his confidence. He played like the Marquis that I know.”
Mississippi Valley State got 19 points from Davon Usher and 15 from Darius Tomlin.
The Hokies continue their nonconference slate on Saturday when they take on Georgia Southern in the second round of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m. The final two games in the Classic will be held in Las Vegas on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23.
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