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James Johnson wins debut as Virginia Tech coach

The SportsXchange

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- James Johnson doesn't have a whole lot of time to savor his first victory as Virginia Tech's basketball coach. Rhode Island comes to town in two days for the Hokies' second game.

Johnson deflected much of the attention from Tech's 80-62 rout of East Tennessee State on Saturday at Cassell Coliseum anyway, saying the victory was more about his players than it was about him.

"It means a lot to me to get the win," Johnson said. "But it means more to me for the team to come out and play and execute and do the things we've been working on since July 6. I like what I saw out there from the team. There are things we've got to work on to get better. But it means a lot to me that those guys came out and played hard. For all that they had to go through to prepare themselves for this day, it was good that they were able to get the win."

The Hokies won their 10th straight season opener and showed flashes of the up-tempo offense Johnson hopes to implement this season, which was a major departure from the mostly half-court set used by predecessor Seth Greenberg. A former Hokies assistant coach, Johnson replaced Greenberg soon after leaving Greenberg's staff to take an assistant coaching post at Clemson last spring.

Erick Green scored 21 points to lead the Hokies. Jarrell Eddie finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds for his second career double-double. Robert Brown scored 16 points and hit a career-best four 3-pointers.

"I love playing for him," Green said of Johnson. "He brings that energy and enthusiasm to this team that we really need. He lets me call a lot of plays. He lets me have a lot of freedom out there. He trusts in me. I'm just trying to lead these guys the best way I can."

Johnson's fast-paced offense got off to a bit of a slow start, as might be expected in the first game under a new coach. The Hokies didn't hit their first field goal until 3:05 into the first half, but after Green's 3-pointer cut ETSU's early lead to 6-5, Tech rolled from there.

The Hokies led 20-15 midway through the first half before Brown knocked down a mid-range jumper to spark a 20-9 burst that pushed the lead to 40-24 with 3:39 remaining before halftime.

The Buccaneers trailed 43-28 at halftime and got no closer than 14 points in the second half. Tech took its biggest lead at 73-48 on an Eddie free throw with 4:01 left.

ETSU, which opened the 2011-12 season with a 64-53 loss at Virginia Tech, began this season with a revamped roster featuring just two returning starters to go with four freshmen, two junior college transfers and two sophomores who played limited minutes last season.

"We were a little overmatched," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. "We're a little green, a little inexperienced. I'm not sure we'll face a better perimeter game all year. We've got a lot of good teams coming up, but I'm not sure we'll face a better perimeter game than Green, Brown and Jarrell Eddie. Those guys can really play."

Lester Wilson led the Buccaneers with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Marcus Dubose added 12 points and four rebounds.

"I love coaching this group," Bartow said. "It's a great bunch of guys with great energy and great attitudes. They want to learn. ... You've just got to be patient. I see a lot of things we can build on. We believe we can win our league. But there (are) no Greens, Browns and Jarrell Eddies in our league. You're playing a different level of talent."

NOTES: Virginia Tech G Marquis Rankin missed the game due to family issues. His status for Monday's game against Rhode Island is undetermined. Rankin averaged 2.5 points per game as a freshman in 2011-12. ... Tech's Green needs 38 points to reach 1,000 for his career. ... Tech's Brown was playing his first game since missing 12 weeks in the offseason due to foot surgery. ... This was one of five games against power-conference teams this season for ETSU, which also plays Georgia, North Carolina, Ole Miss and Arizona. ... Tech leads the series 15-3. ... The Hokies last scored more than 70 points in a season opener in 2006-07 in a 94-43 win over Coppin State.
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