The Opposite of Quit

Share on your favorite social network:
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit

Facing a test of their manhood and resiliency, the Hokies went up to College
Park, Maryland last night and pulled off a victory that few expected. There
seems to be no end to the twists and turns an ACC season can take, and just when
you thought they were down, the Hokies bounced right back up.

I don’t think I can properly recap all the thoughts that are running through
my head after last night’s win, because Tech’s 69-65 stunner had a ton of
subplots and points of interest, so let’s just have at them, one at a time.

The Hokie basketball team is to Maryland what Walt Harris’ Pittsburgh
football teams were to Frank Beamer’s Hokies. There’s no question that the Terps
are a superior basketball program to Virginia Tech. Bolstered by ACC membership
since the start of the league in 1953, and steeped in tradition, Maryland made
the Final Four in 2001, then returned and won the national championship in 2002.
They’re not Duke or North Carolina, but they’re a darn good program with a rich
history.

But
they struggle to beat Virginia Tech. The Terrapins have lost four out of their
last five games against the Hokies. If you were a Maryland fan, wouldn’t that
drive you crazy?

I respect Maryland’s program, and I really enjoy watching the Terps play.
They may be my second favorite ACC team (not their fans, folks — their players
and coaches). Outside of the Hokie players, Bambale Osby is one of my favorite
players to watch. But as good as I think they are, and as much as I respect the
Terrapins, I don’t fear them, not right now, anyway. The Hokies seem to elevate
their level of play against Maryland, and it happened again last night, though
things looked dicey for a while.

In basketball, confidence is a big factor. Confidence is the difference
between stepping into a shot and stroking it, versus going in off balance and
throwing up a shot that would embarrass a third grader. The Hokies have been
missing confidence for a while, and it bottomed out after last Saturday’s
embarrassing loss to UNC.

Just like a switch being turned on, you could see the confidence return to
the Hokies last night. It started with Jeff Allen hitting a shot with 10:50
left, cutting a ten-point Maryland lead to eight, 47-39.

Just like that, the Hokies ignited. There were a few fits and starts, like
James Gist making a spectacular block on a Jeff Allen layup, Osby hitting
Greivis Vasquez, for a nice layup, and Vasquez nailing a three-pointer to erase
Tech’s first lead of the game.

Even when Maryland did those good things, the Hokies responded, showing grit
and (most of all) hustle that wasn’t present against the Tar Heels. When Tech’s
confidence got going, they suddenly turned into an offensive juggernaut. Tech
had 37 points in the first 28 minutes of the game (1.32 points per minute), and
32 in the last 12 minutes (2.67 ppm). The Tech team that struggles so much on
offense didn’t just make shots down the stretch; they hit the bottom of the net,
shooting with confidence and swishing jumpers and free throws.

Three players elevated Tech in the last ten minutes of the game:

Jeff Allen. Inconsistent since his two game suspension, Allen played with
emotion and energy down the stretch. If my reading of the play-by-play is
corrected, in the last 11 minutes of the game, Allen had 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2
blocks, and 1 assist. If Allen had played like that for, say 33 minutes, he
would have a line of 27 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 3 assists. Those are
insane numbers, and it illustrates how hard and how well Jeff played down the
stretch.

The play that stands out to me, other than a brilliant spin move and hook in
the lane, was a block he had on Osby with 3:37 left. With the Terps leading
51-50, Osby caught the ball in the paint and put a nifty spin move on Allen,
blowing by him for an open layup. Allen stuck with him and blocked the layup
from behind, sparking a fast break that led to a three-pointer by Vassallo,
giving Tech a 53-51 lead.

That play ignited the Hokies. Starting with that three-pointer, Tech hit four
of their next five shots, including three three-pointers. The last, a trey from
Vassallo with 1:29 left, staked Tech to a 61-54 lead and put the Terps in
fouling mode.

Hank
Thorns.
I’m becoming a Hank Thorns convert. Early in the game, Maryland
exposed Hank’s weakness, posting up the 6-6 Vasquez on him down low, creating a
huge matchup problem. But down the stretch, Thorns again showed what a clutch
player he is. In the last 8:39, Thorns had four steals, five points, three
rebounds, and two assists.

Let’s play multiply-that-out: If Thorns played like that for 26 minutes, he
would have 15 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 12 steals, an incredible stat
line for anybody, especially a guy who goes about 5-6, 5-7 tops.

Seth Greenberg said before the season that Thorns would be an instant fan
favorite, and sure enough, he is. Thorns has the competitive fire all teams
need, and as a true freshman, he has already had multiple clutch performances.
Thorns hit big jumpers against Maryland at home in January, scored 9 points in
overtime on the road at BC, and had a huge assist and bucket in overtime against
Virginia in Cassell Coliseum.

More importantly, and more subtly, Thorns adds pace and intensity to Virginia
Tech’s offense. When Malcolm Delaney is running the point, the Hokies are more
tentative, don’t get into their offensive sets as well, often struggle in the
half court, and are susceptible to pressure. When Thorns is in, he pushes the
ball up the floor, and his constant motion in the half court set injects energy
into Tech’s offense.

A.D. Vassallo. As Chris Coleman noted in his game recap, Vassallo had
eight of Tech’s first 12 points, then disappeared for a long time. He exploded
for 11 points in the last 3:32, including two three point daggers that first
gave Tech the lead (53-51, 3:32 remaining), and then, as noted above, took the
Terps from basketball mode to fouling mode (61-54, 1:29 left). A.D. didn’t try
to do too much during his long dry spell, let the game come to him, and executed
down the stretch.

Other Impressions

The last 11 minutes of the game were obviously critical, but so were the last
ten minutes of the first half. The Terps were giving the listless Hokies fits,
getting point-blank shots in the half court offense and building a lead that
started out 16-4 and would eventually swell to 28-14.

Three things happened that helped Tech claw back into it:

With 10:16 left, Malcolm Delaney drove the left baseline and was bumped hard
by a Maryland player. Delaney crashed to the floor, but no foul was called, and
the ball went out of bounds to the Terps.

ACC Standings
(through games of 2/20/08)
School Conf. Overall

North Carolina

10-2

25-2

Duke

10-2

22-3

Clemson

7-5

19-7

Maryland

7-5

17-10

Wake Forest

6-5

16-8

Virginia Tech

6-6

15-11

Miami

5-6

18-7

Georgia Tech

4-6

11-13

Boston College

4-7

13-11

NC State

4-8

15-11

Florida State

4-8

15-12

Virginia

2-9

12-12

The score was 22-14 at that point, and Seth Greenberg had seen enough. He
blew up and was whistled for a technical foul eight seconds later, a calculated
move to fire his team up. “I wasn’t going out like that again,”
Greenberg said in his post game radio interview, referring to Tech’s meek exit
from Chapel Hill. “If I had to take the whole team with me, I wasn’t going
out like that again.”

The benefits from Greenberg’s technical weren’t immediate. Maryland hit the
free throws and scored four more quick points to go up 28-14 with 9:17 to go in
the half.

The Hokies went on a 7-0 run to cut it to 28-21 with 6:54 left, and during
that time frame, the other two critical events of the first half occurred: Osby
picked up his second foul with 7:52 left, and James Gist got his second foul
with 6:35 to go.

Maryland’s two premier big men sat next to each other on the bench, and with
them out, the Hokies suddenly had maneuvering room on offense, and Maryland
started to struggle in their halfcourt sets. Tech closed the gap to 31-29 by
half time, completing a 15-3 run that put the Hokies back into the game and
helped them survive a rough start to the second half.

The roller coaster ride continues, and with four ACC games left, the Hokies
get to come home for a critical three-game home stand against Georgia Tech,
Boston College, and Wake Forest. More importantly, they come into the home stand
with momentum already in place, instead of needing the home crowd to get
themselves going again.

In a 30-game schedule, teams go through highs and lows, and they are tested
repeatedly. Passing one test doesn’t mean you’ll pass the next. A three-game
winning streak doesn’t mean that a three-game losing streak won’t follow.

When the Hokies ventured up to College Park, it was the latest test of their
cohesion as a team and the growth of these individual players and the program.
They played hard, they got key contributions from multiple players, and they got
things back on track. Just like the road win at BC put them in good position for
the rest of the season, so did this one. Now it’s home to the Cassell for a shot
at a strong finish.

Share on your favorite social network:
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail to someoneGoogle+share on TumblrShare on Reddit