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4:00 PM PT5:00 PM MT6:00 PM CT7:00 PM ET12:00 PM GMT8:00 PM 北京时间5:00 PM MST7:00 PM EST, Dec 19, 2018
Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Virginia  Attendance: 6,681

No. 13 Virginia Tech tries to avoid mid-December rut vs. North Carolina A&T

Mid-December basketball, in the middle of final exams and just before the Christmas rush, can be filled with distractions. Playing a game against a downmarket opponent doesn't elicit the same passion as a nationally televised showdown against Duke or Kentucky.

Syracuse was ambushed at home by Old Dominion this past Saturday. Michigan crawled past Western Michigan in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute. Florida State was tied at home with Southeast Missouri State at halftime on Monday. Ranked teams across the country struggle once or twice per season in a mid-December home game against an opponent from a smaller conference.

This is the trap the Virginia Tech Hokies hope to avoid on Wednesday night, when they host the North Carolina A&T Aggies at Cassell Coliseum.

The Hokies are coming off one of their sharper performances of the season, a convincing 73-61 victory over the Washington Huskies on Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J. Virginia Tech came roaring out of the blocks, bolting to a 30-14 lead with seven minutes left in the first half. The Hokies took a 39-21 lead to the locker room at halftime. They watched Washington pull within seven points in the second half but were never seriously threatened. The Hokies' defense was consistently strong, never allowing the floodgates to open. Washington found moments of magic but not the long-term groove it needed to climb out of an 18-point halftime hole.

Virginia Tech limited Washington to 36.7 percent shooting from the field and forced 15 turnovers by the rattled Huskies. Washington's Matisse Thybulle and Nahziah Carter combined to hit 10 of 18 field-goal attempts. Other than Thybulle and Carter, the rest of the Huskies hit only 12 of 42 field goals, just under 29 percent. Thybulle hit 5 of 9 3-point shots. Other than him, Washington made just 5 of 21 threes, under 25 percent.

Virginia Tech's defensive energy was sustained and sufficient, and head coach Buzz Williams noticed:

"I wish our energy level would have been the same at Penn State," Williams said in reference to the Hokies' one loss so far this season. "I think we learned a lesson in this game. We had a much higher level of togetherness."

Nickeil Alexander-Walker led Virginia Tech with 24 points against Washington. He saw what his coach did in the cohesive performance by the Hokies.

"When we face adversity, we know how to handle it," Alexander-Walker said. "We handle it together instead of separating and getting tense when things don't go our way."

Has Virginia Tech fully retained the lessons it needs to learn? It gets another "final exam" of sorts when it hosts North Carolina A&T on Wednesday. This is an obvious "letdown situation," so the task for the Hokies is to play with clarity and harmony once again, establishing a pattern before the start of ACC play on New Year's Day against Notre Dame.

North Carolina A&T is coming off a 78-76 road win this past Saturday against Tennessee State. The Aggies have won four of five after losing their first five games. A&T began its season with a rough stretch of games against Power Five schools Wake Forest and Maryland, plus two mid-major NCAA Tournament teams from last March, UNC-Greensboro (Southern Conference) and Marshall (Conference USA). The Aggies have done better against the softer portion of their schedule, but this trip to Virginia Tech will once again challenge coach Jay Joyner's team.

"Maybe we're one of those teams that play better on the road," Joyner said after the road win at Tennessee State this past Saturday. "I hope that's not the case. We need to win at home, and we need to play well in front of our fans, but we are able to win a few on the road, too. That's not a bad thing."

Updated December 18, 2018

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