In Virginia Tech’s first three years in the ACC, the Hokies and Duke have
played five ACC games. In that short time, the matchup has turned into a fierce
rivalry, full of triumph, heartbreak and drama on both sides. The games have
included more than one dagger to the heart, and even a kick in the face.
Tonight’s game appears to be a colossal mismatch, but you just never know what
Duke-VT is going to bring.
When Virginia Tech’s humble basketball program joined the best league in the
country, whippings at the hands of UNC and Duke were assumed to be on the way.
The Duke-VT rivalry didn’t figure to be very competitive, as Duke is one of the
most decorated programs in the nation, whereas VT came into the ACC with just
two winning records in their previous eight seasons, and those by a narrow
margin (16-15 in 1999-2000 and 15-14 in 2003-04).
This one was expected to be the exact opposite of the VT-Duke football
While instinct points me towards Lee Corso’s “Not so fast, my
friend,” this is hoops, so instead, we’ll borrow a line from Dickie V: The
Tech-Duke series has been “Awesome, baby!”
Are you kidding me? The refs in this game never let the Hokies get off the
starting line, whistling Tech for a ridiculous 33 fouls, 22 in the first half
alone. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, were allowed to smack Tech around at
will, at one point knocking Carlos Dixon to the floor and injuring his elbow. No
whistle on the play.
Duke raced to a 56-31 half time lead and never looked back. Tech coach Seth
Greenberg finally snapped late in the second half, picking up his second technical and getting tossed in the process. On the way out, Greenberg had some
choice words for the officials — he appeared to wrap the words “You
suck” around a profanity that you’ll never see printed on this web site —
and barked at a Duke fan that nearly struck Greenberg in the face as he exited
Welcome to Durham and the ACC, Hokies.
Here’s one nobody saw coming. With the officiating being a little more even
this time around, the Hokies stood toe to toe with Duke and knocked them off
behind Zabian Dowdell’s three-pointer with 14.6 seconds left.
It was this game in which the Hokies first utilized their Duke game plan
spread the floor, drive to the basket, break down the defense, and see what
happens. What happened is that Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell combined for 28
points, Carlos Dixon added 18, and Coleman Collins abused Shelden Williams for
14 points and 18 rebounds.
Tech tight end Jeff King, on loan to the basketball program, even got into
the act, scoring 7 points, including a critical bucket, and grabbing 4 rebounds. A rivalry was born.
(warning: this video is LOUD)
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This is, simply put, one of the most painful losses in Virginia Tech
basketball history. Down 74-63 with 4:19 to go, the Hokies mounted an improbable
comeback, scoring 12 straight points to go up 75-74 on Coleman Collins’ rebound
and tip-in with 1.6 seconds left. Collins again lit up Shelden Williams, this
time for 25 points and 8 rebounds.
You know what happened next: Duke inbounded to Sean Dockery, who launched a
45-footer at the buzzer to win it. It still hurts today.
On the verge of doing something no Hokie team had ever done — beat a #1 team
on the road — Tech was instead dealt a gut-wrenching loss. The Hokies won their
next four games out of conference, but they never really got over the Duke loss,
starting 0-6 in the ACC and finishing
14-16, 4-12 in the ACC.
Jamon posterizes Paulus
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Other than the 100-65 pounding, this is the one game in the series that
wasn’t competitive. Duke jumped out to a 37-23 lead and then coasted to the win, despite 21 points from Jamon Gordon and
13 points and 10 boards from Coleman
Collins, who left right after the game to go be with his ailing father in
Georgia. (Jackson Collins died about a month later of cancer.)
Just about the only highlight for the Hokies was Jamon
Gordon posterizing Duke’s Greg Paulus.
The game wasn’t close, but it wasn’t without some spice. With about two
minutes left, Deron Washington drove to the basket and was fouled by Duke’s Lee
Melchionni. As Washington got up off the floor, he
kicked Melchionni a glancing blow in the face.
The referees huddled, watched
a TV replay, and decided to eject Washington from the game. The situation drew a
lot of attention, and the Hokies later suspended Washington for Tech’s next
game, on the road against Wake Forest.
A blowout win, but another chapter in a rivalry that was quickly growing
Greg Paulus is glued to the ground…
Deron Washington is not.
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Washington got his revenge next year, in spades. Just a year later, many of the
details of this game are lost in memory, but one thing stands out: Washington
leaping over Duke’s Greg Paulus and laying the ball in, not once, but
As if that weren’t enough, Washington blocked Paulus’ game-winning
three-point attempt to seal the win, and Tech had their first win over a top
five team on the road since 1962.
Washington’s high-wire act pointed out in stark detail the difference in
athleticism between the two teams. Duke wasn’t very deep or very athletic, and
Washington, Zabian Dowdell, and Jamon Gordon took advantage of them, spreading
them out and combining for 48 points.
What’s In Store for Tonight?
It has been one whale of a series. But tonight doesn’t promise to be very
For the Hokies, the key in their series against Duke has been the ability of
Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon to penetrate the Duke defense and score. If they
missed, Coleman Collins cleaned it up. All three of those guys are gone, of
course, and no one knows if their replacements can replicate what they did. We
do know one thing: Coleman Collins’ replacement, Jeff Allen, won’t even be
Seth Greenberg knows how to coach against Duke. The question is, does he have
all the parts needed to carry out what has been a very effective game plan over
the years? Malcolm Delaney hasn’t shown a tendency to slash and score like
Dowdell, and there is no counterpart to Jamon Gordon on the current Tech team.
(Hank Thorns and A.D. Vassallo are completely different players.)
We’ll get to see more of players who previously haven’t spent a lot
of time on the floor but who might match up well with Duke, such as Terrell Bell
and Dorenzo Hudson. J.T. Thompson will get his first career start, according to
the hokiesports.com game notes, and we’ll quickly find out if he can be
effective against Duke.
Tech’s problems are further complicated by the fact that this Duke team is
deeper, more talented, and can shoot the three better than recent editions. Like
’em or not (I don’t), Duke plays hard, and they come after you. They’ll give
Tech’s freshmen the figurative punch in the mouth right out of the gate, so
Greenberg needs to prep his charges to be prepared for Duke’s hustle,
relentlessness, and far-reaching pressure defense.
On the surface, this looks like a loss, and if the Hokies aren’t careful,
they could be blown out. But I felt that same way about the February 2005 game,
the one that came after the 100-65 whipping. The bottom line is, you have to
play the games, and given the way the first five have gone, I wouldn’t miss this
one for the world. Because you never who’s going to get ejected, who’s going to
kick whom, and who’s going to jump clear over somebody else.