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Hokies hold on late to top Liberty

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BLACKSBURG, Va. — Buzz Williams is still unbeaten as the Virginia Tech Hokies head coach.

Virginia Tech (2-0) pulled away late in the second half to secure a 73-63 win over the Liberty Flames on Wednesday night in Cassell Coliseum in an opening game of the Cancun Challenge.

The young, freshmen-laden Hokies were paced by a couple of returning starters. Junior center Joey Van Zegeren delivered a game-high 17 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore guard Devin Wilson scored all 13 of his points in the second half and had nine assists.

“I think I’ve made a big step. We’ve all been working hard in the gym,” Van Zegeren said about his performance. “My teammates went to the basket and got good attempts. I got a couple of offensive rebounds off of that, and Devin Wilson found me a few times.”

Tech held on for its second consecutive home win despite a 14-6 Liberty run late in the second half that made the score 65-59. The Flames never went away, pressuring the Hokies all the way to the end.

“I think this game helped us. I think we’re better today than we were Monday,” Layer said. “To go on road in a pretty good environment and against a pressure team, we’ve grown in the last three hours.”

Senior forward Tomasz Gielo scored a team-high 13 points and freshman guard Ryan Kemrite had 11 to lead the Flames.

The Hokies shot 61 percent from the field compared with 42.9 percent for Liberty.

“I would say that was pretty good,” Williams said of his team’s shooting performance. “We’re shooting the ball really well. We want to shoot the kind of shots we shoot in practice which are derived from paint touches.”

Liberty head coach Dale Layer, who spent a season coaching under Williams at Marquette before taking the Flames’ job in 2009, saw plenty of familiar characteristics in Williams’ Hokies.

“Buzz is the hardest working coach in the country, bar none,” Layer said. “He’s the perfect hire for Virginia Tech. They’re going to surprise some people in the ACC. People won’t want to play here.”

The first 20 minutes were marked by both teams’ inability to take care of the ball.

Virginia Tech opened its season Friday against the Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the Hokies played more than 32 minutes without committing a turnover. Against Liberty, however, Tech coughed up the ball 19 times on the night.

Liberty, meanwhile, was even more generous. The Flames turned it over 21 times on the night, and the Hokies turned those mistakes into 27 points.

Despite the mistakes, Liberty kept the game within reach throughout the first half. Virginia Tech led 31-28 at intermission, paced by junior guard Adam Smith’s eight points. Van Zegeren added six points and five rebounds before the break.

Kemrite led the Flames with eight points and finished the half perfect from the field and 2 of 2 from 3-point range. Gielo, Liberty’s leading scorer, chipped in with six first-half points.

NOTES: Wednesday night marked the 17th meeting between the programs. The Hokies own the all-time series 14-3. … F Tomasz Gielo entered the game averaging 18.5 points per game, the most by a Liberty player in the first two games of the season since Kyle Ohman averaged 19.0 ppg to open the 2009-10 season. … The Hokies play host to Appalachian State on Saturday, the same day Liberty plays at Miami (Ohio).

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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