Virginia Tech coach James Johnson's game-day routine in his coaching debut Saturday was much the same as it was in his previous role as an assistant coach. He felt excitement and jitters, he worried about not knowing all that much about his opponent and he wondered how his team would perform.
"For me, it was the usual," he said. "Nothing different, really."
Johnson's talented backcourt made his debut an easy one, as senior guard Erick Green scored 21 points to lead Virginia Tech to an 80-62 victory over East Tennessee State Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Johnson, coaching his first game after 19 seasons as an assistant at various stops, replaced Seth Greenberg last May when the school fired Greenberg after nine seasons. The only new coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, his tenure started in fine fashion, as Green, Robert Brown and Jarell Eddie combined to score 54 of the Hokies' 80 points.
"It means a lot, but it means more for me for the team to come out and play and execute and do the things we've been working on since July 6," Johnson said. "I like what I saw out there from the team. There are some things we have to work on and get better. But it meant a lot that they came out and played hard. They've worked hard and prepared themselves for this day, so it's good that they were able to get the win."
The Hokies' first-half shooting was too much for the Buccaneers, as Virginia Tech shot 56.5 percent from the floor (13 of 23) in running out to a 15-point lead. The Buccaneers were within eight points with about six minutes left in the first half, but Brown hit two 3-pointers sandwiched around an Eddie 3-pointer to give the Hokies a 15-point advantage, and the Buccaneers never recovered.
Green scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half and Brown added 13 for the Hokies, hitting three 3-pointers. Brown, coming off foot surgery this summer, finished with 16, while Eddie had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"I'm not sure we'll face a better perimeter game all year," said East Tennessee State coach Murry Bartow, whose team also plays North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Arizona this season. "I really don't. 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 Jarell Eddie. Offensively, those guys can really play."
Freshman Lester Wilson came off the bench to lead the Buccaneers with 20 points. East Tennessee State, which trailed by as many as 25 in the second half, shot just 38.7 percent from the floor (24 of 62). Marcus Dubose added 12 points.
Following the game, Johnson — who had family in attendance along with many of his former Ferrum College teammates and his former Ferrum coach — received a game ball from the players.
"It feels good," Green said. "I love playing for Coach J.J. Everything he does for us . it's never about him. It's all about us. To get him this first win, I'm really happy and excited for him. We're going to keep it going for him, too."