BLACKSBURG, Va. — Lester Wilson rose to the occasion in his first college basketball game. His teammates couldn’t rise with him.
The redshirt freshman came off the bench to score 20 points and grab nine rebounds, but East Tennessee State never seriously threatened Virginia Tech in an 80-62 season-opening loss Saturday in Cassell Coliseum.
There were only brief glimpses of promise from the cold-shooting Bucs, who had four guys making their first-ever starts — three who had never played a minute for them. The one veteran, senior guard Sheldon Cooley, went 0-for-8 from the field.
“We’re not worried about later on, because we’re going to be good,” said Wilson, a 6-4 wing from Knoxville. “But have to get our offense clicking. We can’t have one player, whoever it is, doing most of the scoring.”
Wilson hit 8 of 15 shots, including all three of his team’s 3-pointers. Marcus Dubose, with 12 points — eight of them late — was the only other ETSU player to score in double figures.
The Bucs went 3 of 16 from behind the arc, and 11 of 25 at the foul line while losing their season opener here for the second straight year. The Hokies now lead the series 15-3.
“We missed a ton of free throws and took too many quick shots,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “I wasn’t sure whether we were going to get to 50 or not … we just struggled to score the ball. And defensively we had too many glaring mistakes.
“It goes without saying that for us to beat an ACC team on the road, we have to be pretty flawless.”
The Bucs scored the first two baskets of the game, but the tide turned quickly against them. Virginia Tech led 20-11 after 10 minutes and was in command 43-28 by halftime. It never got closer than 15 in the second half.
ETSU’s two senior guards, Cooley and Dubose, combined to go 0-for-10 and score four points.
It was a colorful half for the Hokies. Erick Green had 14 points and Robert Brown 13.
The Bucs were never able to contain Green, who would finish with 21 points and six assists. The senior point guard got to the foul line a dozen times, making eight free throws.
Green said he was motivated to ensure James Johnson had a winning debut as Virginia Tech’s head coach. Johnson was promoted after five years as an assistant when Seth Greenberg was fired at the end of last season.
“I’m sure he was excited, a little butterflies in his stomach, but he didn’t want to show it,” said Green. “We just came out here and played hard for him. He’s a great coach, and I love playing for him.”
Green, who is just 38 points shy of 1,000 for his career, sat out last season’s game with the Bucs due to an injury. The Hokies looked like a different team with him on the floor.
“He’s a great player, and I love his game,” said Bartow. “He can make threes, and he’s got that little herky-jerky way about him that keeps defenders off stride.”
Jarell Eddie added 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Brown finished with 16 points and five assists. The Hokies collectively had 19 assists against 10 turnovers.
“They have three guys who, if they were in the Atlantic Sun, could be player of the year,” said Bartow. “We tried about four defenses against them, but we had breakdowns and they kept making shots.”
The Hokies were 10 for 25 on 3-pointers, with Brown making four and Eddie three.
Bartow tried a lot of combinations to counter — eight Bucs saw at least 15 minutes of action — but there wasn’t much offense to be found. The exception was Wilson, who had a team-high 17 points in the exhibition game a week earlier.
“Lester is the best shooter on our team, and he’s the best scorer on our team,” said Bartow. “And I hesitate to say it now, but he’s a good free throw shooter, too.”
Wilson went 1 for 6 at the line, and it was catchy. John Walton missed all four of his free throws, and Hunter Harris was 0 for 3.
“That’s very odd for me,” said Wilson. “As a team, we really practice free throws. I guess we’ll have to practice some more.”
On the positive side, the Bucs outrebounded the Hokies 39-37, outscored them in the paint 36-26 and held a 36-17 advantage in bench points. And they committed just 12 turnovers.
They have a week before facing Tennessee Tech in their home opener next Saturday. The Golden Eagles beat them 83-74 last year in Cookeville.