For most of the year, Virginia Tech didn’t look like a team that had what it takes to go on the road and beat the #1 team in the country. However, on Wednesday night they did just that. The Hokies led by as many as 16 points, trailed just once, and held on down the stretch to defeat top-ranked Wake Forest 78-71 in Winston-Salem on Wednesday night. Tech is now 13-5 on the season, with a 3-1 record in ACC play. Wake dropped to 16-1 overall and 3-1 in the ACC with the loss.
Virginia Tech’s “big three” of Malcolm Delaney, A.D. Vassallo and Jeff Allen led the way. Delaney led the team with 21 points and eight rebounds. He also dished out three assists and had two steals in 37 minutes of action. Delaney also drew the task of defending future NBA lottery pick Jeff Teague. Teague finished with 23 points, but had five turnovers and failed to come up with big plays down the stretch.
Allen and Vassallo each had 16 points. Vassallo started slow and didn’t score until the 4:45 mark of the first half. Allen took over in the second half, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the final 20 minutes.
Besides the “big three”, there were other unsung heroes in this upset. Cheick Diakie came off the bench to score eight points and grab five rebounds. J.T. Thompson added six points and four rebounds. Diakite, Thompson and Victor Davila combined to go a perfect 6-of-6 from the field.
Perhaps the biggest unsung hero was backup point guard Hank Thorns. He only scored four points, but the Hokies needed an extra ball handler on the court to battle Wake’s pressure defense. Thorns played 21 minutes and had four assists. Despite heavy pressure from the Demon Deacons all night, Thorns had no turnovers. As a team, the Hokies had just 13 turnovers while forcing 16.
Tech also dished out 13 assists and had seven steals. Wake’s basic half court offense was shut down for most of the night. The Demon Deacons had just eight assists for the game, and had to rely on the penetration of Jeff Teague and the offensive rebounding of L.D. Williams and Al-Farouq Aminu for many of their points.
Perhaps the story of this game was shooting percentages. Opponents were only shooting 36.2% against Wake Forest heading into the game, but the Hokies were 25-of-50 from the field for exactly 50%. Wake entered the game shooting 51.1% from the field, but the Hokies limited them to 28-of-65 (43.1%).
This was a very tight game in the early portions of the first half. The Demon Deacons gained their first lead at the 15:56 mark on an L.D. Williams layup. That made the score 8-7. It was impossible to predict at the time, but that turned out to be Wake’s only lead of the game.
Seth Greenberg used a timeout after Wake went on a quick 4-0 run to cut the Tech lead to 15-14 with 8:56 remaining in the first half. That timeout ignited a 15-0 run by the Hokies. Malcolm Delaney drained a quick three-pointer out of the timeout, and Victor Davila capped the run with a layup to make the score 30-14 Virginia Tech with 4:18 remaining in the half.
Wake Forest was able to crawl back into the game before halftime. Al-Farouq Aminu ended the half with two explosive dunks, and the Hokies took a 34-24 lead into the halftime intermission.
Part of the key to Tech’s first half success was the lack of production from Wake Forest’s frontcourt. Aminu went to the locker room to get stitches after catching an elbow from A.D. Vassallo, while James Johnson and Chas McFarland were sidelined for much of the half with foul trouble. McFarland entered the game averaging 10.5 points per game, but he finished with no points in just 11 minutes of action.
The Hokies led by as many as 15 points in the second half, but Wake Forest made their run as expected. The Demon Deacons were able to cut the lead to single digits, but Tech kept firing back. Wake cut it to five points on three straight possessions, but each basket was answered by a shot from the Hokies to take the lead back to seven points.
With 11:42 left in the game, Jeff Teague hit a three-pointer that cut the Tech lead to 53-49, but he was answered by a jumper from Cheick Diakite on the Hokies’ next possession. Wake again cut the lead to four on two free throws from L.D. Williams, but A.D. Vassallo hit right back with a three-pointer with 10:20 left that made the score 58-51.
Tech made 14 of their first 20 field goal attempts in the second half, which limited Wake Forest’s run.
The Hokies managed to extend their lead to 13 points when Jeff Allen hit a three-pointer with 6:28 remaining to make the score 67-54. At that point, the Demon Deacons made their final run of the game. Wake went on a 12-1 run that was capped by a jumper by James Johnson with 3:28 remaining. That made the score 68-66 Tech, and things were getting dicey.
After the Hokies failed to score, Wake Forest got the ball back with a chance to tie. The key stretch of the game began on this possession. Harvey Hale tried to bank in a wide open jumper from about six feet away, but missed. Al-Farouq Aminu came charging in for the offensive rebounding, but he crashed over the back of Jeff Allen and got called for the foul.
Allen went to the free throw line for a one-and-one, but missed the front end. J.T. Thompson chased down the offensive rebound for the Hokies, and later in the possession Allen was fouled yet again. This time he went to the line for two shots, and he hit both of them to put Tech up 70-66 with 2:43 left in the game.
The Hokies tried their hardest to give the game away in the final moments. Tech was just 8-of-16 from the free throw line over the final 2:01. However they continued to play excellent defense, and the Demon Deacons lost their composure. They stopped attempting to drive to the basket, instead settling for six three-point attempts in the final two minutes, which isn’t their strength. They managed to hit just one of the outside jumpers, and couldn’t take advantage of Tech’s poor free throw shooting.
The win was Tech’s third all-time victory against the nation’s #1 team. Two have come under Seth Greenberg, who is 2-2 against the #1 team while at Virginia Tech. The Hokies lost 77-75 to Duke in 2005, then beat UNC 94-88 in 2007. Last year they lost to UNC 68-66 in the ACC tournament. Both of their losses have come on buzzer beaters.
The win also marked Virginia Tech’s first ever victory against a #1 team on the road.
The Hokies will return to action on Sunday when they travel to Miami to take on the Hurricanes. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30pm, and the game will be televised by FSN.