BLACKSBURG — His “fast” offense didn’t live up to the hype, but it was still a successful debut for James Johnson.
Johnson won his first game as a college head coach as Virginia Tech cruised to an 80-62 victory over East Tennessee State on Saturday at Cassell Coliseum.
“I’m sure he was excited, a little butterflies in his stomach, but he didn’t want to show it,” said Erick Green, who had 21 points. “We just came out here and played hard for him. That’s what we’re going to do every game, is do this for Coach Johnson. He’s a great coach and I love playing for him.”
Johnson’s parents and siblings were on hand to watch his debut. So were former Ferrum coach Bill Pullen, who coached Johnson in college, and some of Johnson’s former Ferrum teammates.
“It means a lot to me to get the win, but it means more to me for the team to come out and play and execute,” Johnson said. “It means a lot to me that those guys came out and played hard.”
Johnson and the Hokies talked a lot in the preseason about wanting to play “fast” on offense. Johnson had his team running in drills in practice to prepare for his fast tempo.
But the Hokies mustered just nine fast-break points against the Buccaneers (0-1).
“Their game plan was to slow us down a little bit with their zone and their pressing,” said small forward Jarell Eddie, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds. “We [weren’t] able to get as much transition points as we wanted.”
“They did a great job in transition defense,” said guard Robert Brown, who had 16 points. “We pushed it the way we wanted to. They just got back.”
Tech attempted 58 shots from the field, a total it eclipsed in nine games last season.
“Coming back in a zone is hard,” Green said. “I didn’t think we played as fast as we should’ve, but I thought for a first game … we played pretty well.
“I’m going to learn more about penetrating a zone and get out and run.”
Johnson was pleased with the tempo, though.
“The way we pushed the basketball up the floor, we got some early looks,” he said. “We want fast-break points, but we also want good shots early in transition, which I don’t know if that’s considered to be a fast-break point, but for us, that’s a fast-break point.”
Tech didn’t let the shot clock wind down on many possessions.
“The first open shot we have, we can take it,” Brown said.
The last man to see his team score at least 80 points in his Tech coaching debut was Frankie Allen, whose Hokies lost 88-85 to Middle Tennessee State in 1987.
Tech had 43 points at halftime, topping its first-half total in any game last season. Tech scored 80 points or more in three games last season.
It was a good sign for Tech that Green was joined in double figures by Eddie and Brown.
“I’m not sure we’ll face a better perimeter game all year than … Green, Brown and Jarell Eddie,” ETSU coach Murray Bartow said.
The Hokies sank 10 3-pointers, including four by Brown and three by Eddie.
ETSU outrebounded Tech 39-37. Tech was not a good rebounding team last season, and that squad’s best rebounder, Dorian Finney-Smith, has transferred to Florida.
“There are things we’ve got to work on, and rebounding is one,” Johnson said.
More rebounds would result in more fast-break points, said Eddie.
Center Cadarian Raines had nine points and just four rebounds. He was 3-of-9 from the field.
Power forward C.J. Barksdale had no points, three rebounds and four fouls in 17 minutes.
Freshman reserve Marshall Wood had five points, six rebounds and four fouls in his college debut. The power forward was 1-of-6 from the field.
“I was a little nervous, so my shot came up a little bit short,” Wood said.
Redshirt freshman center Joey van Zegeren had six points, two rebounds and four fouls off the bench in his college debut.
“I was really excited,” he said.
Tech was without backup point guard Marquis Rankin, who had two deaths in his family.