If Georgia Tech fans wonder about the ability to change the fortunes of a basketball program around almost overnight, they need to look no further than Virginia Tech.
The success enjoyed by the Hokies from the first to the second year under head coach Buzz Williams can serve as inspiration for the Yellow Jackets, who visit Blacksburg at 9 p.m. on Wednesday in ACC play.
“Buzz has done a masterful job there, both at Virginia Tech and Marquette,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said. “His teams have consistently been one of the hardest-playing teams in the country — not just this year, but every year. If we don’t match that intensity and energy, it’s going to be a hard night.”
Virginia Tech faced a rebuild similar to the one Georgia Tech has undertaken this season under Pastner. The Hokies floundered for two seasons under James Johnson, who took over from the popular and successful Seth Greenberg. After going 9-22 in 2014, Virginia Tech fired Johnson and hired Williams.
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After finishing last in the ACC in his first season and winning just two conference games, the Hokies went 20-15 last year and earned a trip to the NIT. This season, Williams’ third in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech is 13-4 and 2-3 in the ACC, losing a nail-biter to No. 20 Notre Dame on Saturday.
“I hope in year three we can continue along the same trajectory,” Williams said. “I think we’re a little ahead of where anybody could have thought, but we’re thankful that we’re there, and we just need to continue to be efficient and work in the same manner that brought us here.”
Virginia Tech is led by senior Zach LeDay (16.6 points and 7.3 rebounds), sophomore Ahmed Hill (15.1 points) and sophomore Chris Clarke (12.3). Hill is a former Peach County player who finished his high school career at Aquinas.
Georgia Tech has been the biggest surprise in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets, fresh off an 86-76 road win over N.C. State, are 11-6 overall and 3-2 in the conference, the first time they’ve been above .500 in the conference through five games since the 2009-10 season. That’s not bad for a team that was picked 14th in the preseason conference poll
Freshman Josh Okogie scored 27 against the Wolfpack and has scored 26 or more in two of the past five games. He’s averaging 18.4 points during that stretch. He was named ACC Rookie of the Week on Monday for the third time this season.
But the biggest contributor at N.C. State was forward Quinton Stephens. The senior scored a season-high 22 points and shot 4-for-8 on 3-pointers. Since scoring only one point against Louisville, Stephens has totaled 38 points in the past two games. The 22 points matched his career high, set in the 2014-15 season opener against Georgia.
“Coach is really re-emphasizing taking open shots and being aggressive,” Stephens said. “We’ve really emphasized being aggressive, and I think it shows. Our guys can play, and we’re playing with confidence.”
Georgia Tech shot the ball better against N.C. State than it has against any ACC opponent. The Yellow Jackets shot 49.2 percent and are 58-for-123 (47.1 percent) during their past two games. They are now 10-0 in games in which they have outshot the opposition and are 10-0 when scoring 70 points or more.
“We made shots (against N.C. State), and when you make shots, good things happen,” Pastner said.