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Alexander-Walker leads No. 15 Virginia Tech past Miami

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BLACKSBURG, Va. — In a pregame ceremony, the Virginia Tech recognized three seniors who arguably changed the fortunes of the program. Then, a sophomore stole the show.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and No. 15 Virginia Tech beat Miami 84-70 on Friday night to tie the school record for regular-season victories with 23.

Playing mostly at the point guard position, Alexander-Walker was 6 of 14 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Hokies (23-7, 12-6 Atlantic Coast Conference). The sophomore also tied his career high with eight assists.

“It was all about our seniors,” Alexander-Walker said. “The fact that I could be there for them was huge.”

Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw had strong performances in their last home game for the Hokies. Outlaw scored 19 points, hitting five 3-pointers, and Hill added 17 points and connected on five 3s as well.

Ebuka Izundu and Chris Lykes had 16 points each for Miami (13-16, 5-13).

In addition to celebrating its seniors, Virginia Tech celebrated doing something that only one other team in school history had done — win 23 games in a regular season. The 2009-10 team won 23 games, but a soft nonconference schedule relegated that team to the NIT.

“In year No. 1 (2014-15), we won 11 percent of our ACC games, and after tonight, we’ve won at a 67-percent clip when 10 of those games — five were played with seven guys in uniform and the other five were played with eight guys in uniform,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. “I think it’s off the chart.”

Virginia Tech trailed 16-8 before the Hokies found their shooting stroke and buried Miami, outscoring the ‘Canes 32-6 over a span of nearly nine minutes. The Hokies hit six of their nine first-half 3-pointers during that stretch and scored on 13 of 15 possessions.

In the second half, Miami sliced a 45-31 halftime deficit to 11 on a 3-pointer by Zach Johnson, but the Hokies answered with a 14-4 run. Wabissa Bede’s left-handed layup with 12:38 remaining pushed the lead to 61-40.

“The group I started in the second half has never played a second together,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We were just looking for something that might create some mismatches for them. It kept us inching closer … but then again we made some critical errors and missing some shots. We needed up not shooting the ball well from 3, and if we don’t shoot the ball well from 3, we’re going to have a hard time of winning.”

Virginia Tech shot 49.2 percent from the floor (29 of 59) and hit 14 3-pointers.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies basically played their 10th straight game without point guard Justin Robinson, who has been out with an injured foot. Williams ceremoniously started Robinson in his final home. Kerry Blackshear Jr. took the opening tip and tipped it out of bounds, allowing Williams to substitute for Robinson, whom the Hokies hope to get back at some point this season. Robinson was averaging 14.4 points and 5.5 assists before the injury.

Miami: Lykes came into the game averaging 16.2 points per game and ranking in the top 10 in the ACC in scoring — and he finished right on that average. But the sophomore struggled from the floor against the Hokies, hitting just 5 of 15. He missed his first seven 3-point attempts, which was emblematic of Miami’s struggles from the perimeter. The ‘Canes made just six of their 29 3-point attempts.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Virginia Tech lost to Florida State in overtime on Tuesday in Tallahassee, Florida, which certainly is no shame considering the Seminoles’ No. 14 ranking. So the Hokies figure to stay at or near No. 15 in next Monday’s poll.

UP NEXT

ACC Tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)