NEW YORK — The previously prolific offense of the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team was not ready for the bright lights of the big city.
Saint Louis beat the Hokies 77-71 in a nationally televised 2K Classic game Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Tech (2-1) trailed the entire second half.
“They were tougher than us from start to finish on both ends of the floor — more physical, played more like we want to play,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said.
“I didn’t think that we were ever in the fight. I don’t think that we were ever in the mix. I thought they overwhelmed us not only with their energy but with their physicality.
“Our character was revealed in how we played. ... I was shocked that [was] who we were tonight. That caught me off guard. Normally we like the fight. Normally we are the first to the floor.
“I didn’t see any of that. And that’s not from our new guys, that’s from all our old guys. I played our old guys a lot of minutes because I kept thinking it would turn, and it never did. Very ... disappointed in our competitiveness.”
Tech will face Washington (2-1) in the third-place game at 5 p.m. Friday.
The Hokies began the season with prolific outings at home against Detroit Mercy and The Citadel, but the Billikens (3-0) of the Atlantic 10 proved to be a more formidable foe Thursday.
“We knew they played fast,” said Javon Bess, who had 22 points for the Billkens. “We knew we just had to slow them down. We slow them down and make them run the offense, make four, five, six passes a possession, we [were] going to be okay.”
“We’re a tough team and we play defense,” teammate Jordan Goodwin said. “That’s our No. 1 thing we focus on.”
Goodwin had 19 points for St. Louis, which won just 12 games last season.
Tech shot just 40.4 percent from the field Thursday. The Hokies were only 6 of 19 from 3-point range (31.6 percent). They made just 63.6 percent (23 of 36) of their free throws.
“I’ve never seen a team shoot as many layups as [Tech] shot the last three games, counting the South Carolina [exhibition game],” St. Louis coach Travis Ford said. “It’s layup after layup after layup because of their speed and execution. Our biggest thing is we just didn’t want to give up layups. ... Crowd that paint and get back in transition.”
Ahmed Hill had 26 points for Tech. He was 10 of 16 from the field.
But the rest of the Hokies had just 11 baskets.
“We didn’t play our game,” Hill said. “We just didn’t attack the rim like we normally do.”
Tech senior guard Justin Bibbs, who had watched the first two games of the season from the bench in street clothes for disciplinary reasons, made his season debut Thursday. He came off the bench early in the first half. He finished with 15 points.
Tech freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker had scored 24 points in the season-opening 111-79 win over Detroit Mercy and had tallied 29 points in last weekend’s 132-93 rout of The Citadel.
But he scored just four points Thursday. He was 1 of 7 from the field.
Tech point guard Justin Robinson was 0 of 7 from the field. Chris Clarke was just 1 of 7 from the field.
Trailing 61-49, the Hokies went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 61-56 with 6:13 remaining.
Goodwin made a layup and Bess made one of two free throws to extend the Saint Louis lead to 64-56 with 4:53 to go.
Bibbs made a layup and Hill scored to cut the deficit to 64-60 with 3:42 left.
After a Tech turnover, Davell Roby scored to extend the lead to 66-60 with 1:56 left.
Hill scored to trim the deficit to 66-62.
After Alexander-Walker missed a shot, Bess made one of two free throws to extend the lead to 67-62 with 53.5 seconds to go.
Robinson made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 67-63 with 46.1 seconds to go. But Bess made two free throws to extend the lead to 69-63 with 45.3 seconds left.
St. Louis shot 47.4 percent from the field and was 19 of 25 from the free-throw line.
Down 19-16, the Billikens went on an 11-0 run to grab a 27-19 lead with 7:56 left in the first half. They led the rest of the game.
Tech was outrebounded 43-33 in the game.
Tech already has a tournament lined up for next November. The school announced Thursday that it will play in the Charleston Classic in South Carolina next season. The tournament will be held Nov. 15-18 at TD Arena. The field also includes Wichita State, Purdue, Alabama, Davidson, Appalachian State, Ball State and Northeastern.