Virginia Tech upsets No. 3 Michigan State on Maui
Mike Young did a lot at a small school with an aw-shucks demeanor and a can-do attitude.
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LAHAINA >> Mike Young did a lot at a small school with an aw-shucks demeanor and a can-do attitude.
This summer, the longtime Wofford coach packed his bags — making sure to stuff in those attributes and some folksy sayings — for the big leagues at Virginia Tech. The Southern Conference for the ACC.
Shoot, it only took 17 years.
When a reporter remarked Monday that Young was at the same place for a long time, Young quipped, “Yeah. Nobody else would have me.”
Right about now, plenty of schools wish they had. Young, who has one of the youngest and shortest rosters in the country, oversaw an upset of No. 3 Michigan State on the first day of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, 71-66, throwing a wrench into the tournament’s dream final of the Spartans and No. 4 Kansas.
These Virginia Tech Hokies (6-0), with their turkey mascot, plan to feast, not be feasted on, during Thanksgiving week. The next two days are not merely gravy for Young’s youngsters. They meet Dayton (4-0) at 3 p.m. today for a spot in Wednesday’s championship.
“Holy smokes, are they a good-looking outfit,” Young said of the Flyers of the Atlantic 10.
Redshirt freshman forward Landers Nolley II, whom Young inherited, poured in 22 points, including a key 3-pointer for a four-point lead with 47.5 seconds left. Nolley patted his coach on the back to credit him for the play in the postgame press conference, but Young was having none of it.
“I got nothing to do with it, come on,” Young said. “He was being kind. He’s a nice kid. That’s a really good player making a big league play.”
He had to swallow this much from Nolley: “When you prepare and play and practice and go hard every day, guys just start to believe in each other and listening to the coaches, it just becomes natural and you do what you do in practice and that’s how you be successful.”
Young, 56, took Wofford to five NCAA Tournaments. The Virginia native got the call to replace Buzz Williams in Blacksburg, Va., after Williams left a 26-win team to coach Texas A&M in the offseason.
Young had succeeded at Wofford in Spartanburg, S.C. (enrollment 1,720) with underrecruited overachievers like Fletcher Magee, who became the NCAA Division I career 3-point leader (509) last year. But Young surprised nationally by assembling the No. 33 fall recruiting class in the country, per Rivals, including a pair of ESPN Top 100 recruits.
Thing is, they won’t be here until 2020-21. Young, right now, has the fourth-youngest roster in the country.
The Hokies turned some heads just before heading to Maui when they sank an ACC-record 21 3-pointers in a rout of Delaware State. They shot it well again on Monday, knocking down 10 in 21 attempts.
Young’s mantra for the game, like this early-season stretch with his new team, was “survive.” The Hokies slowed down the tempo (“if the thing’s in the 80s, they would blow our doors off”), dropped way, way back instead of crashing for offensive boards, and upped their confidence as they went, bodying up Michigan State shooters and contesting jumpers at every turn. Unheralded Hokies point guard Wabissa Bede turned MSU’s counterpart, All-America point guard Cassius Winston, into a nonfactor after he picked up two quick fouls.
Growled Spartans coach Tom Izzo, whose first Maui title will have to come another year, “Hat’s off to Mike and his team. I thought they played extremely hard, extremely well and I guess we’re going to find out a little bit about our team.” He went on to apologize to the MSU fans who made the trip for his team’s lack of sharpness.
“I promise you, we will spend no time on the beach tonight, tomorrow or tomorrow night.”
Few gave the Hokies a chance in Monday’s game, and fewer still believed they will contend in the ACC; Tech was selected 14th among 15 teams in the league’s official preseason poll.
I don’t think they know any better,” Young said. He was referring to his players, but it could’ve applied to any number of onlookers.