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Hokies stun No. 3 Spartans

Nolley drains dagger 3 late in Virginia Tech’s 71-66 upset victory

Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley II celebrates after making a 3-pointer in the second half of the Hokies’ 71-66 upset of third-ranked Michigan State on Monday in the first round of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational at Lahaina Civic Center. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

LAHAINA — Landers Nolley II put a smile on his coach’s face when he sank a dagger 3-pointer in Virginia Tech’s 71-66 upset of No. 3-ranked Michigan State in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational on Monday.

Then, the 6-foot-7, 225-pound redshirt freshman forward made the smile on Mike Young’s face even wider in the postgame press conference.

“It was a good play that coach drew up and I just came off the screen, executed it, it felt good,” Nolley said of his backbreaking 3 that gave the Hokies a 68-64 lead with 49 seconds to play. “So they just believed in me and I took the shot, I hit it, we celebrated.”

Nolley scored a game-high 22 points — he shot 4-for-6 from 3-point range and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. He made just one of his six two-point shots.

Young patted his star on the back as they sat next to each other on the press conference dais, shaking his head as Nolley talked about the key play.

Virginia Tech’s Wabissa Bede is guarded by Michigan State’s Cassius Winston in the second quarter Monday.

“I got nothing to do with it, come on. He was being kind. He’s a nice kid,” said Young, who is in his first year in Blacksburg, Va. “That’s a really good player making a big-league play. We thought we could get him behind something, but really good players make really good plays. That was a really good play and probably it went a long way in getting us out of here with a significant win.”

The Hokies (6-0) will play Dayton in the semifinals today at 3 p.m. Michigan State faces Georgia at 9:30 a.m. in a consolation semifinal.

Virginia Tech led 59-49 after Nolley sank a 3 with 4:39 to play. The Spartans then went on a 12-4 run to close within 63-61 with 1:55 remaining.

Nolley hit his only 2-pointer of the game with 1:36 to go to push the lead to 65-61 before Michigan State’s Aaron Henry answered with a 3 to bring the Spartans within 65-64 with 1:15 left.

Nolley then curled off a screen, took a nice pass from Hunter Cattoor and sank the kill shot moments later.

The Hokies’ John Ojiako calls for a first-half pass while guarded by the Spartans’ Kyle Ahrens.

“Proud of our team. We tried our best here against an exceptional Michigan State team,” Young said. “Defensively, I thought we kept them out of the paint. Easier said than done. Such length and size in there with (Xavier) Tillman and a couple of those other guys. I’ve got good players. It comes back to good players. … Great win for Virginia Tech, our basketball program, but we got a lot more to look forward to, as does Michigan State.”

The result cost the tournament its dream championship matchup of No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Kansas.

“Well, I’ve said this for 20 years. Upsets happen. And that’s no insult to them, but it is an upset. Upsets happen,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “The 3-point shot and foul trouble, and we had both, along with a bunch of missed layups. I give a lot of credit to Mike and his team. I thought they played harder than us and better than us.”

Izzo apologized after the game to his throng of fans who made the trip.

“I publicly want to apologize to maybe the greatest fan group that was here,” said Izzo, whose team fell to 3-2. “We feel like I let them down and it’s been an interesting couple of weeks and we just weren’t as sharp today.”

Virginia Tech coach Mike Young shouts to his players in the second half.

Cassius Winston, the Spartans’ All-American point guard and Wooden Award candidate for national player of the year, was limited to eight minutes on the court in the first half after collecting two fouls. He had no points, one assist and two turnovers in the first half before coming back to finish with seven points and two assists for the game.

“Yeah, it was difficult to sit that long,” Winston said. “Just got to be smarter than that and make better decisions for my team, and then to try to come back out and to try to play to that high level and stuff like that. It’s kind of hard to get back in your rhythm, get back in the flow of the game.”

Izzo defended his point guard — Winston’s younger brother Zachary died after being struck by a train earlier this month.

“Cassius, you know, it’s sad because for me, because at a tournament like this, I would like all the people in Hawaii and everybody else to see, he was a shell of himself today,” Izzo said. “I think it’s been a lot on him. I told you that. No excuses for me. I did the poor job. But I couldn’t do what that kid has done, no way. And he just looked tired the whole time. I think it’s the mental stress that he’s going through. … He’s the straw that stirs the drink.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

VIRGINIA TECH (6-0)

Horne 5-6 0-1 12, Alleyne 3-10 2-3 10, Radford 0-0 0-0 0, Bede 3-10 5-9 11, Nolley 5-12 8-8 22, Ojiako 1-1 0-0 2, Cattoor 4-8 0-0 10, Cone 1-1 0-1 2, Wilkins 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 23-52 15-22 71.

MICHIGAN ST. (3-2)

Henry 7-12 2-4 18, Kithier 3-6 2-2 8, Tillman 4-10 0-0 9, Watts 2-7 0-0 6, Winston 2-8 2-2 7, Hall 0-1 0-0 0, Bingham 0-2 2-2 2, Brown 3-7 1-2 9, Marble 1-1 1-2 3, Loyer 0-2 0-0 0, Ahrens 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 24-59 10-14 66.

Halftime–Virginia Tech 32-28. 3-Point Goals–Virginia Tech 10-21 (Nolley 4-6, Horne 2-2, Alleyne 2-4, Cattoor 2-5, Wilkins 0-1, Bede 0-3), Michigan St. 8-23 (Brown 2-3, Henry 2-4, Watts 2-4, Tillman 1-4, Winston 1-5, Loyer 0-1, Hall 0-1, Ahrens 0-1). Fouled Out–Hall. Rebounds–Virginia Tech 25 (Horne 7), Michigan St. 39 (Tillman 14). Assists–Virginia Tech 16 (Nolley, Bede 5), Michigan St. 13 (Henry, Tillman 3). Total Fouls–Virginia Tech 16, Michigan St. 20. A–2,400 (2,400).