By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
There isn’t much time for Virginia Tech to lick its wounds after an 86-75 home loss to Boston College on Wednesday night.
No one knows that better than Virginia Tech first-year head coach James Johnson, whose Hokies (9-6, 0-2) will try to snap a four-game losing skid on Saturday at Georgia Tech.
While the Hokies were noticeably disappointed in the locker room after the loss, Johnson is a proponent of staying up and focusing on what is next.
“That is the important thing, stay up, we have got to stay up...,” said Johnson, who replaced the fired Seth Greenberg after last season. “That is something we have talked about doing all year, but it is definitely easier to stay up and move on to the next game when you are winning.
“These young men are 18, 19, 20, I am sure they are down, but we have got to get up and move on.”
Virginia Tech started its first season under Johnson with a 7-0 record, including wins over No. 15 Oklahoma State and Iowa in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a stint that found the Hokies pushing the tempo and scoring 86.1 points per game.
Yet, the positives began to wane on Dec. 8 when the Hokies dropped a 67-66 decision on a buzzer-beater at West Virginia.
That began a slide that has seen Virginia Tech lose six of its last eight games, and one of the two wins was by one point in overtime against Bradley. The Hokies also lost to Georgia Southern — and lost freshman Marshall Wood to a fractured foot — and during its current skid, have allowed 88 (Colorado State), 97 (Brigham Young), 94 (Maryland) and 86 (Boston College) points.
That has been compounded by the Hokies’ lack of scoring, having lost its last four games by 36, 26, 23 and 11 points.
“Right now we are in a tough place,” said Virginia Tech junior Jarell Eddie, who had 21 points, trailing Erick Green’s 24 for the team lead against Boston College.
“We are on a four-game losing streak, three of those games were blowout losses. It was tough, we are in a tough position right now, we just have to fight back and get back on track.”
How tough has it been on the Hokies? They entered the season short-handed because of defections are the dismissal of Greenberg, and with the injury to Wood and the flu that sidelined Robert Brown on Wednesday, the Hokies have just six scholarship players.
“We talked about being a man down and some other guys needed to step their game up and help the team out,” Johnson said.
“We are going into the game with the intent to play as hard as we can and play as well as we can and try to win the game regardless of who is out there on the floor.”
That has forced walk-ons to play much more than expected, including sophomore Christian Beyer, who had played one minute each in four games early in the season, but has played 27, 25, 23, 15 and 22 minutes in the last five contests.
“Honestly the first time I was here Coach said basically I would be a practice guy helping out and making sure the starting team is ready to play,” Beyer said. “I never imagined it would be like this.”
Beyer didn’t play like a walk-on against the Eagles, providing six points and a team-high eight rebounds. No matter what level it is, he’s still playing basketball.
“Honestly, even the first game I went in I really wasn’t nervous at all,” Beyer said. “Me growing up playing basketball, I am used to it so since that first game I feel like I have been pretty confident, I am just playing ball...
“My main thing is to give effort, go to the boards, get offensive rebounds, get defensive rebounds, do what I can and that is about all I can do right now.”
Johnson has noticed, not only his effort, but that of all the Hokies.
“I have got some guys fighting, scholarship, non-scholarship, I have got some guys fighting, but I have got to get more guys playing consistently the same night,” Johnson said. “I have got to give it to those non-scholarship guys, they are fighting their tails off, they are doing all they can do to help this team try to win a game.
“I can’t take anything from them, we have a short bench, we are going to have a short bench. It is what it is, we just have to play better.”
Beyer admitted that the Hokies’ transition game, which was so strong early in the season, has begun to struggle because of the lack of rebounding, and Virginia Tech compounded those issues against Boston College with 17 turnovers that led to 29 points for the Eagles.
“Those first six or seven games we were upbeat, energy, everyone was in good condition,” said Beyer, whose Hokies have been road warriors, traveling to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Maryland before finally returning home against the Eagles.
“I am not saying we are not in good condition...We have been flying back and forth to the west, I don’t know if that affected us, but I think it is taking a toll on our bodies a little bit.”
Boston College, which didn’t win an ACC road game all season, made it look easy against the Virginia Tech, but Johnson professed not to be concerned, even if the Eagles were the preseason pick to finish last in the league.
“I am not concerned about where anybody was picked,” Johnson said.
“The whole key is being concerned about the next game and who we are playing, we are definitely not concerned with where somebody was picked.
“I just hope we can keep our head up and keep fighting and trying to get better.”
Virginia Tech, which dropped to 7-2 at home this season, will travel to play the Yellow Jackets on Saturday, having posted a 2-4 mark away from Cassell Coliseum.
Johnson doesn’t see road trips as a problem.
“We have handled that pretty well,” Johnson said. “I think we just need to keep our heads up and don’t get too down on ourselves and not get down on each other and try to move on to the next game whether that be home or away.
“It is tough in the ACC, whether it is home or on the road.”
—Contact Brian Woodson