BLACKSBURG — Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and the rest of “The Hangover” cast weren’t at Cassell Coliseum on Monday, but for one half it sure felt that way.
The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team didn’t shake off winless Mississippi Valley State until the second half, but it eventually pulled away for a 70-49 victory.
Tech coach James Johnson blamed his 8-1 team’s ho-hum first half on the effect of last weekend’s 68-67 loss at West Virginia.
“We had a little bit of a hangover,” Johnson said. “Around campus, I think everybody’s talking about the last game. It’s all our guys are hearing. … That was a tough loss.”
Mississippi Valley State (0-6) led 22-20 with 6:27 left in the first half. The Hokies finished the half on a 10-2 run to grab a 30-24 at halftime lead.
“We came out slow,” said senior point guard Erick Green, who had 23 points for the Hokies. “We didn’t even come with no enthusiasm, no energy. … We came out flat.”
Green and junior Jarell Eddie spoke to their teammates at halftime, imploring them to pick up their energy level.
“We’re playing ball. This is supposed to be fun,” Green said after the game.
Johnson also spoke at halftime, telling the team to improve its effort.
“A little sweet talk,” the rookie coach said.
Rebounding was a problem for Tech at WVU, and it was a problem again in the first half Monday. MVSU outrebounded Tech 24-17 in the half.
“After West Virginia, we knew that we had to do a better job on rebounding. The first half, we didn’t do a very good job,” center Joey van Zegeren said. “We all knew it coming into the locker room, and Erick and Jarell just picked us up.”
Tech wound up outrebounding the Delta Devils 51-45. Eddie had 10 rebounds.
The Hokies began the second half on a 23-6 run to build a 53-30 cushion with 9:31 to go.
Green had 15 of Tech’s 30 first-half points, even though he has been battling the flu since last Tuesday. Johnson said Green has lost about seven pounds.
“I’m drained,” Green said.
Van Zegeren had nine points, seven rebounds and three blocks off the bench. The redshirt freshman had seven of his points in the first half.
“Me finishing inside was a big thing,” he said.
Sophomore guard Marquis Rankin, who was 0-of-5 from the field at WVU, scored a career-high 10 points off the bench Monday. He was 3-of-4 from the field.
“I took better shots tonight and I took my time,” Rankin said. “On Saturday, I rushed.”
Johnson spoke with Rankin on Sunday, telling him he needed to “step up.”
Rankin did not play in the season’s first two games because of the deaths of a great-grandmother and a great-uncle. He said Monday’s game was a “confidence builder” for him.
“I just had to get the flow of my game back,” he said.
The Hokies entered the game averaging 83.8 points but mustered their third-lowest total of the season. They shot just 38.3 percent from the field.
Tech center Cadarian Raines was 0-of-4 from the field before fouling out. Eddie and Robert Brown were a combined 4-of-16. Four walk-ons were a combined 0-of-10.
“A win is a win,” Johnson said. “When it goes down, it’s not going to be W with a U for ugly or W with a P for pretty.”
MVSU, coming off a 67-39 loss at Virginia on Saturday, shot just 25.7 percent from the field Monday.