BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Those who attend Virginia Tech begin taking their semester-ending final exams on Friday.
The men's basketball team will be tackling its toughest exam of the season Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky.
Behind Chris Clarke's season-best 18 points, the Hokies cruised to a 93-40 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Sunday, setting up a showdown with No. 8 Kentucky on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Virginia Tech hasn't played the Wildcats since the 1996 NCAA Tournament -- and has never played at Rupp.
"I think it'll be a great experience," Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. "I anticipate a lot of good things to learn from it. I anticipate a lot of things that we haven't seen thus far that we can learn from. I think they're top 20 in offensive efficiency and top 20 in defensive efficiency, and I would say that they're 1 or 2 in number of first-round picks on their roster. It'll be good for us. Good or bad, it'll be good for us."
The Hokies (9-1) certainly will be stepping up in competition. Virginia Tech has played eight teams with losing records so far this season, including Sunday's foe, UMES (3-8).
Clarke hit 7 of 9 from the floor, including all three of his 3-point attempts for the hot-shooting Hokies, who won their seventh straight game. The nation's highest scoring team coming into this one (96.6 ppg), the Hokies scored more than 90 points for the seventh time this season.
Virginia Tech buried the Hawks with a barrage of first-half 3s. The Hokies led just 16-15 with a little more than 12 minutes remaining in the first half before embarking on a 23-1 run to take control. They hit six 3-pointers in that run, with Clarke, Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede hitting two each.
Clarke's seven field goals and three 3-pointers marked his highest of the season. He tore his ACL in February, missed the final nine games of last season, and now appears to be rounding into form.
"My legs are feeling good, 95-100 percent," Clarke said. "But I'm just trying to do what I can for the team."
The Hokies, also the nation's best shooting team coming into this game, shot 60 percent in the first half (21 of 35) and hit 11 of 17 from beyond the arc. The Hokies led 54-22 at halftime -- their largest halftime lead this season.
Cameron Bacote led the Hawks with 12 points. The Hawks have lost three straight and five of their past six games.
"The hard part is almost over for us," UMES coach Bobby Collins said. "If we can get past our next three games (road games at Creighton, Iowa State and Drake) and weather the storm and keep this team together, then we'll be OK in conference play."
UMES: The Hawks are in the midst of a brutal stretch of non-conference games. This was the third of six straight on the road -- they play 12 of their 15 non-league games on the road -- and they have lost their seven road games this season by an average of 38 points per game. They still have three straight road games before returning home for just the third time this season.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have gotten at least 19 points from their bench in every game this season, including their victory over the Hawks. Led by Clarke, the Hokies' bench players scored a season-best 37 points. Tech's bench is averaging 27.8 points per game this season.
DOING IT WITH DEFENSE
Williams has been critical of the Hokies' defense this season, but Virginia Tech shut down the Hawks. The Hokies allowed just 40 points and held the Hawks to just 27.8 percent (15 of 54) shooting from the floor. The 40 points, 27.8 shooting percentage and 15 baskets were the fewest by a Virginia Tech opponent this season.
"We changed completely what we were doing defensively than the previous nine games," Williams said. "I thought our guys handled the execution of that in a much more mature way than I anticipated. That speaks to who they are."
LEGEND RETURNS HOME -- AGAIN
Adrian "Ace" Custis returned to his old stomping grounds Sunday for the third time, as the current UMES assistant coach played basketball at Virginia Tech in the mid-1990s. Custis, now in his fourth season at UMES, is one of just three players in Virginia Tech history to record more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Virginia Tech retired Custis' No. 20 jersey at the end of his senior season in 1997, making him just one of four Tech players to have his jersey number retired.
UMES: The Hawks play at Creighton on Friday night.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies gear up for their biggest challenge of the season, as they travel to Kentucky for a Saturday afternoon game against the Wildcats.
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|North Carolina A&T||9-2||1||14-11|
|North Carolina Central||7-5||3.5||12-14|
|South Carolina State||4-7||6||6-21|