Virginia Tech can't think long about North Carolina collapse
There's really no way to sugarcoat what happened Thursday night in Chapel Hill. Led by senior guard Malcolm Delaney's 28 points, Virginia Tech played its guts out and jumped out to a 16-point first-half lead on the road against North Carolina. But in the end the Hokies lacked the moxie and firepower to seal the deal, falling 64-61.
Sure, there were a couple questionable calls down the stretch -- most notably a late charge that took a dunk away from Jeff Allen -- but in crunch time Delaney missed a potential game-winner while less-experienced players like freshmen Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall and junior Tyler Zeller hit crucial baskets that ultimately gave the Tar Heels a victory.
Virginia Tech is now just 1-4 against the RPI top 50 this year, and seniors like Allen and Delaney are 7-24 against top 50 opponents during their careers. But with Wake Forest coming to Blacksburg for a Saturday night affair, the Hokies can't linger on that thought for long. Though the Demon Deacons could very well finish in the ACC cellar this season, Virginia Tech's margin for error has all but been eliminated at this point.
"Hopefully we’ll have the Cassell [Coliseum] rocking and get people to appreciate how hard this group is playing and how they’re staying together," Coach Seth Greenberg said in the wee hours of Thursday night. "There’s a lot of basketball to be played. If nothing else, we proved in the last 80 minutes [against FSU and UNC] that we can compete pretty hard.”
The biggest concern facing Greenberg right now is rest. Three players -- Allen and sophomores Erick Green and Manny Atkins -- missed portions of Thursday's second half with cramping issues. Greenberg said on his Twitter account last night that Green was administered "multiple bags" of IV on the bus ride back.
The Hokies played three games in four days back when they traveled to Anaheim for the 76 Classic, but never before have they had to travel and play in such a short period of time this season. The team didn't return to campus until around 3 a.m. Friday morning, and Greenberg said with such a short turnaround, they'll simply watch film rather than actually practice.
“I put it on our upperclassmen to talk to the younger guys," Greenberg said this week. "When you play in the ACC, like I told the guys the other day, we’ve got eight straight weeks where every single game is an event. And if you’re not mentally, physically, emotionally invested in that game, you’re gonna get whacked. And they’ve got to understand that."
First and foremost on Greenberg's mind should be getting his front court back on track. After perhaps the best eight-game stretch of his college career, Allen regressed Thursday night, getting into early foul trouble and finishing with just four points and seven rebounds. The Hokies' tallest available player, forward Victor Davila, had just two points seven rebounds. Senior forward Terrell Bell, meanwhile, contributed two points and six rebounds.
Compare that to North Carolina's starting front court of Barnes, Zeller and sophomore John Henson. That trio combined for 45 points and 22 rebounds, and along with freshman Kendall Marshall, were the primary catalysts as the Tar Heels closed the gap in the second half
Allen's performance is excusable to a certain extent, since he carried the Hokies offensively and defensively during their six-game winning streak. But Davila and Bell have yet to amp up their games since Virginia Tech lost senior Dorenzo Hudson and sophomore Cadarian Raines for the season last month. Bell hasn't scored more than six points in the last six games. Thursday night represented the first time since Dec. 6 that the 6-8 Davila has grabbed more than five rebounds in a game.
The criticism aside, I don't think there's an ounce of doubt as to whether these coaches and this team are putting forth maximum effort. Undermanned and outmuscled the past two games, the Hokies haven't backed down yet. But with such a depleted roster and a demoralizing loss less than 48 hours old, can Virginia Tech summon more of the same Saturday night against Wake Forest?
| January 14, 2011; 11:34 AM ET
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