Gasping for Air, No-Quit Hokies Find Something to Smile About

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This is why they play the games. Down to six scholarship players, missing their top two inside players, with their
on-court leader suffering from a gimpy ankle, the sad-sack Hokies trudged down the highway to Winston-Salem … and came
away with an improbable win. How Virginia Tech beat Wake Forest is a story of matchups, scoring that came from an
unanticipated source, leadership from a player with the heart of a lion, and simple perseverance.

With Coleman Collins in Georgia to be with his ailing father, Deron Washington serving a one-game suspension, and
Jamon Gordon still suffering the lingering effects of an ankle injury he sustained against Maryland a week earlier,
things looked grim for Virginia Tech against Wake Forest Saturday. It was a shame, really. Despite the presence of burly
6-9, 280-pound center Eric Williams and 20-point-a-game scorer Justin Gray, Wake Forest looked like one of the beatable
teams on Tech’s schedule. At 1-5 in the ACC, the Demon Deacons were a whole that was decidedly less than the sum of its
parts, and they represented a chance for the Hokies to notch their first ACC win of the year.

But not under these conditions. The thin Hokies had been stripped down to their bare essentials and were stuck having
to start freshman center Cheick Diakite — who was definitely not ready for prime time — and freshman forward A.D.
Vassallo, who had all but disappeared as the season wore on, to the point where he was averaging just 4.2 minutes per
game on the year.

Wake was the top rebounding team in the ACC going in. This game figured to get ugly, so ugly that I didn’t set my VCR
and I scheduled an errand I needed to run for my parents “between 4:30 and 5:00” — the last half-hour of the
3 p.m. game. I didn’t think I would need to re-watch this one or even catch the end of it.

The game started off well enough. Gordon hit a jumper and Diakite turned and stuck a 15-foot jumper right in
Williams’ face, prompting a disgusted timeout from Wake coach Skip Prosser (and an out-loud laugh from yours truly).
That figured to be the end of Tech’s fun, though.