By Matt Jones, sports editor
At times it wasn’t pretty, but the Hokies knocked off the rust in an interesting season opener in Cassell Coliseum Saturday afternoon.
Game story from the Hokies 64-53 win over East Tennessee State University.
Head coach Seth Greenberg didn’t know quite what to expect out of his group entering the season, primarily because of the number of freshmen.
Dorian Finney-Smith showed off some rebounding chops, Robert Brown knocked down some three pointers and C.J. Barksdale stepped it up on the defensive end with Victor Davila and Jarell Eddie in foul trouble.
Finney-Smith finished with 16 rebounds, and became the first Tech player to record a double-double in his debut since Jeff Allen did so in 2008 against Elon (19 points, 10 rebounds).
“(Dorian) has an instinct for the ball,” Greenberg said. “He’s got to get better, there’s a lot of room for growth. He’s in every play, which is kind of fun.”
The Hokies were without Erick Green. The junior point guard is still suffering from a nagging Achilles injury he suffered last week in practice.
“I wanted (Erick) to warm up because I wanted (ETSU) to have that in the back of their minds,” Greenberg said. “He’s got to move around on that thing, that’s how it’s going to get stronger. He’s made progress each and every day, which is good. I’m not going to risk 29 games for one game, just not going to do it.”
Here’s what else Greenberg, as well as his players, had to say following the win.
- Finney-Smith on how he handled his debut. “I’m going to stay aggressive,” he said. “If I miss a shot, I’m going to move on to the next play.”
- While he played well (10 points, 16 rebounds), Finney-Smith noticed some big differences in the college game. “The game is way faster and (players) are stronger.”
- Freshmen have a tendency to play poorly in the first several games. That wasn’t the case for Finney-Smith. “I wasn’t nervous, it’s just basketball. The game in Canada really helped me with nerves, so I’m good.”
- Finney-Smith: “I’m a team player, I rebound and play defense. I just know where the ball is going to land (on rebounds). I’m small, so I can’t push anyone under the goal, I have to use my quickness.”
- Note: Finney-Smith’s 16 rebounds are the most by any Hokie play since Jeff Allen last year at Boston College.
- Brown on the overall game: “I think It was a good learning experience, getting time on the floor in a college game,” he said. “All the freshmen that played came in and did a good job, Joey (van Zegeren) came in and gave us some good reps for Victor and Cadarian, C.J. made some great plays in the post, and Doe-Doe (Dorian Finney-Smith) came out and played an all-around great game. For all of us, it was just a good experience. I wouldn’t rate this as different, because it’s just a stepping stone for what we want to do this season.”
- On if he was nervous for his first college game. “I think the butterflies finally went away,” Brown said. “First half, I was a little nervous, and second half I kind of settled down. Coach did a good job, telling me to just keep shooting and play with confidence, and I did, and they finally started to fall.”
- Brown said he’s nervous before every game. “Usually I have butterflies before every game, but this one was a little worse since it was my first college game.”
- What did Brown see out of his highly touted classmate Finney-Smith? “Doe-Doe’s a phenomenal player,” he said. “He does it all. I see why he was ranked so high, and so highly recruited, because he can do it all. Score the ball, rebound, and he can play great defense.”
- On his offensive explosion in the second half: “Coach told me to stay aggressive and keep shooting,” Brown said. “Even after I missed the first three in the first half, he told me in the second half that if I have an open shot, be confident with it and shoot it. I did, and they started to fall.”
- The 2-3 zone gave the Hokies some problems early. Brown was the guy the Hokies used to hit shots over the zone. “I think somebody had to. I’m happy it was me, and Dorenzo was definitely capable of doing it. (Garland) helped with the penetration and opened it up, they really had to play him tight, which opened it up for me and Dorenzo on the wing for open jump shots.”
- On what the Hokies changed up to beat the zone. “I think what we did differently was get the ball inside,” Brown said. “Victor, Cadarian and C.J. did a great job making plays when we got the ball to them on the inside.”
- The Hokies missed Green in the opener. “It was tough,” Brown said. “Practicing with him was a lot different than what we did in this game. We definitely missed him, and we wish him a speedy recovery so he can get back and play with us.”
- What did he make of the slow start? “Just trying to make the right plays, little nervous, but as the game went on I got a good feel of it, and handled the ball better in the second half,” Garland said.
- On the freshmen contributing in a big way: “We’re going to need that. That’s how we’re going to have to win. I wasn’t surprised; they all played together, the Hargrave (Military Academy) guys.”
- Garland, who played point guard for the Hokies, knows the team is at its best when Green is in there. “When Erick comes back, it’s going to be much better; everybody’s going to play their regular positions. He’s really the point guard leader out there.”
- On the lackluster first half: “This is a young team, it’s a lot of guys out there that don’t have much experience,” Garland said. “Second half we were more as a team.”
- Garland did a nice job breaking down the zone and finding the open shooters. “Coach told us to use more ball fakes, because they were playing high out on the wing,” he said. “We used a lot of ball fakes, which got us in the middle easy. We used the bigs more in the second half.”
- Was he nervous? “There were a lot of nerves,” Garland said. “I was nervous the whole first half and all this week, but once the second half started that kind of came under control, got myself going.”
- The five freshmen, four of which played Saturday, will be a big part of the team’s success this year. “They were kind of nervous a little bit, a little slow in warm-ups,” Garland said. “I knew they were going to play well, and for us to win they’re going to have to play like that every game. It’s a lot going to be on their shoulders this year.”
- On how he felt: “When my body started cramping up, I did feel like an old man. But, I’m all fine,” Hudson said.
- Was Hudson confident the Hokies would pull the win out? “I knew we were going to get it done,” he said. “We need Erick on the court, because he’s our point guard, he’s one of our leaders.”
- On Finney-Smith: “He did great,” he said. “Double-double for the first time, that’s pretty good.
- Hudson missed all of last year with a foot injury. “I thought I played alright in the first half, then took over the point in the second half and didn’t get a lot of shots, but got the team in the right position to score the ball and we won the game.”
- On breaking the ETSU press: “That’s what I need,” Hudson said. “I knew they were going to look towards me, and I basically just told the guys to calm down. The press wasn’t that great. They did a good job at times, but it wasn’t that great. At times we got a little rattled, and I need to kind of bring the guys in a little bit.”
- On the opening game: “You never know what’s going to happen with freshmen,” he said. “To get through the game with that lineup we had to play, that’s encouraging, it’s a first step.”
- The Hokies finished with 22 points in the paint. “I thought in the second half when we got the ball into the post, (Victor)’s just got to finish that. That jump hook he made was a big shot. We did not ball fake hard enough to get into the post in the first half.”
- Brown’s defense is something that needs to improve. “Robert Brown I thought down the stretch did a decent job on Sollazzo, keeping him in front,” Greenberg said. “He’s got to be a better defender, he’s got to stop melting on drives, he’s got to stay in front of the ball.”
- Greenberg thinks the Hokies will be a good shooting team. “We’re a really good shooting team. Erick Green is shooting it so well right now it’s unbelievable,” he said. “Jarell Eddie can really shoot the ball, Robert can really shoot, Dorenzo can really shoot”
Photo by Trevor White, SPPS