Huge win boosts Virginia Tech tourney hopes

Huge win boosts Virginia Tech tourney hopes
January 21, 2011, 3:15 pm
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Friday, January 21, 2011, 10:12 a.m.

By Benjamin Standig


COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Fine, maybe the doom and gloomtalk surrounding the NCAA Tournament prospects for the loser of Thursday night's Virginia Tech-Maryland clash were overblown, whatwith seven plus weeks left until selection Sunday. Plenty of chances remain to earn one of the ACCs currently projected four or five March Madness slots by racking up conference wins, though not necessarily of the high-end mathematical formula kind that bracket devotees covet.

No, this was not a de facto playoff game, just rivals looking to distinguish themselves from the conference's sizable middling middle. But just in case it was, the Hokies handing the Terps their worst-ever Comcast Center losswas a standout for sure.

Seth Greenberg's squad raged from the opening tip with a 12-0 run,Erick Green scored a career-high 24 points and Malcolm Delaney's poised performance before a raucous crowd that earlier in the week he said "might be the worst fans ever" spoke volumes in the Hokies 74-57 win.

"I thought that was probably the best we played all season," said Greenberg, whose undermanned Hokies (12-5, 3-2 ACC) have now won eight of nine after opening the season with a 4-4 record. "We're getting better."

Nobody on hand was doubting that as the Hokiesnever trailed and led at onespot by 17 points. They shot 54 percent from the field behind a scalding 12-for-16 shooting performance from Green, all against the nation's sixth-ranked defense in field goal percentage. Led by 10 rebounds from Washington D.C.'s Jeff Allen (seven points), they held a 37-30 edge on the glass against the second best rebounding team in the conference.

Their 2-3 zone, which became a necessity for this once predominant man defensiveteam once injuries limited the Hokies to eight scholarship players, held the Terps to a season-low 36 percent from the field and their leading scorer Jordan Williams to an ineffective 11 points.

"He just couldn't get easy touches like he normally do," said Delaney, who dished out seven assists, knocked down 7-of-8 free throws and received the brunt of the boo's from the sellout crowd. "I really didn't care. I spoke the truth," said Delaney about hisprevious commentstoward the Terrapin supporters.

The Baltimore native made positive use ofthe derisive sounds coming from the stands.

"I was playing at home, it felt like they were rooting for me. That's how I was looking at it."
In what he described as the "most hostile environment" he had ever played in, Green said the crowd's negative energy toward their senior leader spurred on that initial scoring burst and "turned us on", addingthat Delaney never allowed it to effect his game.

"The fans were talking," Green said. "He's always got our back so we had to get his, rally around him. He kept his poise. Some people (allow) fans to get into their ear. He wasn't like that at all. He kept playing and had a heck of a game."

As for having a heck of a game, it takes one to know one though Greenberg took the praise up a notching by saying his sophomore guard had a "monster" game. Replacing Dorenzo Hudson, one of three injured Hokies out for the season, in the starting lineup earlier this season, Green scored 14 points in the first half and was active on the other end of the court throughout with four steals.

The Terps found their legs after that initial blow by the Hokies and crawled back to 17-13, but immediately gave up a dunk, a fast break slam and baseline floater _ the last two baskets from Green _ in a 47 second span. The leadremained double figures most of the way, though Maryland trimmed the margin to eight when guard Cliff Tucker's singular scoring barrage of 11 points with three 3-pointers in less than two minutes pulled them to within 61-53.

Over seven minutes remained, but the Hokiesquashed hopes of a closer finish by another immediate counter, this timewith a 9-2 spurt for a 70-55 lead.Victor Davila, who was the primary defender against Williams, scored five of his 13 points in that stretch.

The Hokies were unable to stop Williams, who grabbed 11 rebounds,from extendinghis double-double streak to a school tying 12, but they did limitthe ACC's fourth-leading scorerto justone field goal in theopening half. Tucker led the Terps (11-7, 1-3) with 13 points. All of Maryland's previous losses had been in single digits.

"After a game like that, you wonder where that effort comes from compared to the efforts of last week," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose teams recently hung with top-10 teams Duke and Villanova until the final minutes. "We just didn't seem to have the energy that Virginia Tech had."

Last season the door to most prominent post-season college hoops extravaganza was closed to the Hokies despite a 10-6 conference record primarily due to their poor non-conference resume and scantmajor wins in the league. This campaign, with many in the tournament bracket punditry world looking at the ACC as having but a single superior team in one-loss Duke, another double figure win total likely will be in order just to be considered. Without beating Coach K's kids _ and the Hokies face the Blue Devils in late February _a .500 conference record even with a stepped up docket of non-conference games will likely not get it done for any potential bubble ACC team this season

The attempt to address the scheduling void this year meant matchups with highly ranked Kansas State, Purdue and UNLV, but all those games went the way of the other guy.The Hokieswere able to snatch some quality out-of-conference wins, most notably against the currently 36 RPI rated Oklahoma State Cowboys, but that singlewrangle will not be enough.

Normally the Hokies, whose own RPI stands at 68afterfacing the Terps,could rely upon getting plenty of such numerical status improvement opportunities in the conference. Too bad this is no normal year in the ACC.North Carolina currently holds a top-25 RPI, but the Hokies already lost that potential score with last week's loss at Chapel Hill. Boston College (33), Miami (48) and Florida State (51), which handed then No. 1 Duke their only loss, all rate ahead of Thursday night's combatants. Each of the three have more prominent wins than the Hokies best resume line; the Eagles beat Texas A&M (16) and the Hurricanes toppled West Virginia (13).

Then again BC fell to two Ivy League schools and Miami dropped one to lowly Rutgers,making Virginia Tech's lone rating blemish _ a home loss to Virginia _ not as ghastly. The Hokies already helped their own cause be defeatingthe Seminoles and still have the Eagles and Hurricanes coming up, both at Cassell Coliseum.

Knocking off the Terps (87) was more about moving ahead of them in the race for one of those precious big dance spots theconference will receive then the Hokies improving their national resume.

"We need every ACC win we can get," Delaney said. "The team understands that right now we have a couple losses, but we don't hold our heads. We just wait for the next game and try and come out and play our best."

Of course the half glass full brigade will surely believe that the so-called down year could not have been timed better what with the NCAA field going up a belt size from 65 to 68 teams. Bring up RPI or hard to fathom non-conference losses all you want the optimistic rooters will say, but with the ACC's reputation and history of packing the dance, who's to say that five or more teams won't ultimately shimmy their way to the main floor.

But there are many more balls to be bounced, scorers to defend, baskets to be made before the big picture talk truly ramps up.

"You guys look at this thing globally, said Greenberg when asked about the overall importance of the win. "We look at it like one game, micro management of one possession on play at a time."

That's why in this year's ACC, the key is to think and focuslocal. The conference's NCAA bids are there for the taking, more so than in year's past. Win what's in front of you, ignore the going's on elsewhere north, south, east or west.

This message largely goes out to Hokie Nation. Coach Greenberg and his Hokies are already there.