With the College Hoops World Watching, Hokies Grab Their Moment

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It’s
safe to say Cassell Coliseum has never had a night like this one. Oh, sure, the
Hokies have beaten a #1 team before — this is the third time it’s happened in
Blacksburg — but never with ESPN’s basketball version of College GameDay
in town, and never with so much past Hokie greatness and so much college
basketball royalty in attendance.

You couldn’t walk twenty feet in Cassell Saturday night without encountering
some of the great names in college basketball, Hokie basketball, Hokie football,
and even NFL football. Before the game, I saw former Hokie great and NFL career
sack leader Bruce Smith in the Cassell Coliseum entryway. Bruce was there on an
unofficial visit with his son Alston, who received a VT football scholarship
offer this weekend.

Dell Curry was in the house to witness his son Seth playing for Duke, and
Bimbo Coles was honored as part of Virginia Tech’s celebration of 50 years of
Cassell Coliseum history. Along with Malcolm Delaney, that put three of Virginia
Tech’s four 2,000-point career scorers in the place at the same time. (Anyone
know what Dale Solomon was up to?)

Calling the game for ESPN was the ageless Dick Vitale, who doesn’t look so
ageless up close. Nuff said. And here for GameDay was former Indiana and
Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight, plus former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps, who
headed up the Irish when the Hokies knocked them off for the 1973 NIT
championship. ESPN analysts Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis rounded out the crew,
along with the ever-sharp and ever-knowledgeable Rece Davis.

I haven’t even mentioned Frank Beamer’s presence. And while we’re dropping
names, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski counts, too.

That’s a dizzying array of sports stars, all present in one place, and for
one night, Blacksburg was the epicenter of the college basketball universe and
the place for any Hokie to be. And Virginia Tech put the cherry on top by
knocking off #1 Duke, 64-60.

As I mentioned, Tech has done this before. It’s old hat. Maybe I’m
exaggerating, but ESPN did run the stat that Tech has the most wins — three —
over teams ranked #1 in the last five years. For sheer artistry, the Hokies
94-88 waxing of #1 North Carolina
in January of 2007 still takes the cake.
The Hokies came out smoking hot in that one and blasted the Heels out of
Blacksburg. This game was more of a last-man-standing rock fight. Or more
accurately, a case of two teams playing hard but not always well.

This is the kind of night it was: Victor Davila had one impressive sequence
in the second half where he played tough post defense, forced a missed layup,
beat everyone down the floor, hauled in a great pass for a dunk … and clanked
it. The box score lists the dunk as being blocked by Duke’s Miles Plumlee, but
Davila will admit he should have flushed it.

So the game went, and it was a war of attrition won by the determined Hokies.
Their stat sheet was pockmarked with ugly numbers: 8-of-19 (42.1%) from the free
throw line; 2-of-12 three-point shooting from Malcolm Delaney and Erick Green;
11-of-36 shooting from the field in the second half after a tidy 50% first half;
Delaney making just 4-of-15 shots; Davila going 1-of-6 from the line.

But keep looking, and you’ll find some gems. Jeff Allen (18 points, 15
rebounds) returned to double-double territory and was joined by Davila (11
points, 10 boards). The Hokies had just six turnovers and piled up 16 offensive
rebounds. Allen and Terrell Bell made 4-of-6 three-pointers to partially cover
for Green and Delaney’s poor marksmanship.

In short, the Hokies did just enough to win, and when it hit crunch time, it
was Tech who made the winning plays, not Duke.

This thing was hanging by a thread, with the Blue Devils leading 55-50 and in
possession of the ball with less than six minutes left. After falling behind
29-22 in the first half, Duke had outscored the Hokies 33-21 over a long stretch
and were poised to drive home the dagger.

But suddenly, Duke fell apart. Soon-to-be-named ACC Player of the Year Nolan
Smith, who spent the first 34 minutes of the game looking the like the best
player on the floor, turned the ball over, committed a foul, missed a
three-pointer, and missed two layups in a two minute span.

That opened the door for the Hokies, who kicked it in. Victor Davila dunked a
follow-shot and let out a primal scream to cut it to 55-52. Terrell Bell calmly
drained the tying three-pointer with 4:41 to go, then hit two go-ahead free
throws 22 seconds later. The Hokies capped a 9-0 run with a Jeff Allen layup
that put Tech ahead 59-55 with 2:39 remaining.

After a Kyle Singler layup — more on him later — cut it to 59-57, Malcolm
Delaney shook off his doldrums and drained a separation three-pointer that gave
the Hokies a five-point cushion with just over two minutes left, 62-57. Cassell
went nuts.

The two teams spent the rest of the contest playing a polite game of
“You take it” … “No, you take it” … “No, really, I
insist…” The Hokies missed four of six free throws down the stretch and
didn’t score again from the field.

Meanwhile, the desperate Dukies got just three points in the last two minutes
from … Mason Plumlee. Singler and Smith went AWOL when Duke needed them the
most.

The limp finished capped off a nightmarish second half for Singler, who had a
good-looking 22-point, 12-rebound stat line. But nine of those points came from
the line, and Singler missed six of his seven three-point attempts in the second
half, including his last five, most of which were wide open looks. Singler
failed to deliver when he had golden opportunities to put away the struggling
Hokies. Davila’s dunk and Bell’s three-pointer finally kick-started Tech’s
comeback to the win, as the Hokies scored 14 of the game’s last 19 points.

Tech fans were also spared the indignity of a good game from Seth Curry.
Instead, Curry looked overwhelmed and overmatched, fouling out in just 15
minutes and managing to do something his father never did in Cassell Coliseum:
go scoreless. Raucous Cassell crowds always spurred Dell to greatness. They seem
to have the opposite effect on Seth, who sports his dad’s retired #30 on his
chest. It’s all just so twisted, but fortunately, not a factor on this night.

Tech’s bench has been pulling a disappearing act lately, and Seth Greenberg
went almost exclusively with his starters in an effort to get an historic win.
All five starters played 37 minutes or more and scored all 64 of Tech’s points.
At least they were balanced; the starting five all scored in double figures,
with four of them scoring 11 or 12 points and Allen pumping in 18.

The key for the Hokies is to build on this win. I’ll spare you NCAA
tournament talk, because wins over #1 should be enjoyed in isolation, for what
they are: great moments. But it’s true that Boston College and Clemson and the
ACC tournament are just around the corner. Is this the win that starts something
special, or is it just, as CBS might say, One Shining Moment?

For tonight, who really cares? The sight of Hokie fans streaming onto the
Cassell floor to celebrate a win over #1 is a sight to savor. And this one is
different. It’s Duke. The Hokies have beaten the Blue Devils three times in ACC
play now, but never when Duke was #1, and now, next to the notches in Cassell’s
arches that read “Memphis State, 1983” and “North Carolina,
2007”, you can add this:

Duke, 2011.

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