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Posted at 1:27 AM ET, 02/27/2011

Virginia Tech vs. Duke: Did Digger Phelps provide motivation for upset victory?

By Mark Giannotto

What a wild Saturday night here at Cassell Coliseum. Virginia Tech got the late-season signature win they've needed for three years now, upsetting No. 1 Duke.

The fans stormed the court, and I'm sure will be reveling throughout downtown Blacksburg into the wee hours of the night. Not to mention, as I type this, Cassell Coliseum facilities manager Kevin Sheets is cleaning up all the scuff marks that came from thousands of people celebrating a massive upset on the middle of a basketball court.

Coach Seth Greenberg, meantime, is now a remarkable 3-3 against No. 1 ranked teams during his eight-year tenure in Blacksburg. But during the postgame media scrum, the Hokies players said the motivation for this win may have from another coach -- Digger Phelps.

And it had nothing to do with Phelps being the only ESPN commentator to pick Virginia Tech's upset this morning on "College Gameday."

"Digger Phelps gave us a really good speech yesterday [at practice], and we believed in it and we came out and executed," senior Terrell Bell said. "He told us that four No. 1 teams went down in front of us and he said "College Gameday," Duke’s No. 1, we can get that win and we believed in it.”

I went to senior Malcolm Delaney for further explanation. He said the speech Phelps gave meant a lot coming from someone who upset seven No. 1 teams during his years as coach at Notre Dame, most notably when his Fighting Irish ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak back in 1974

"He was confident we could beat Duke, and just coming from a previous coach that beat No. 1 teams as much as he did, he kind of gave us a little confidence," Delaney said.

Greenberg, too, admitted the speech made a tangible difference, providing re-assurance that's sometimes needed during the grind of a long season. Phelps also may have provided the impetus for Jeff Allen's 18-point, 15-rebound performance.

Phelps "was really good. He said all the things we’ve been saying to them, but coming from a different voice," Greenberg said. "He talked about how, ‘This is a perfect storm,’ about how a week ago, No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 go down and all of a sudden Duke becomes No. 1. And that everything happens for a reason. And that they had this stage. And he did a great job with Jeff. He told Jeff, ‘You can dominate this game.’"

****Speaking of Delaney, he didn't have the greatest night of his career (11 points on 4 of 15 shooting), but he came up big when it mattered most, nailing a three-pointer with two minutes remaining to give Virginia Tech a five-point lead.

His classmates weren't too shabby, either.

Senior Jeff Allen had yet another double-double -- his ninth in the past 10 games -- finishing with 18 points and 17 rebounds. Afterwards Greenberg called Allen's play "absolutely phenomenal." Senior Terrell Bell, meanwhile, added 12 points, five of which came during the Hokies crucial 9-0 run that gave them a lead they would never relinquish with less than five minutes remaining.

"They led their team to a really big win, and they've led them to a really good season," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Virginia Tech's seniors. "We lost to a really good team."

Added Allen: "We had the fun and games in the morning, but it was game time when the sun went down. We were prepared."

****The contributions from forward Victor Davila should not go overlooked, either. Like Allen, he too had a double-double, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Greenberg said Davila was so good that he probably set the standard for how his future performances will be judged.

But his biggest play came on that monster putback dunk in the second half. Those were the first points of Virginia Tech's go-ahead 9-0 run, and the normally emotionless Davila let out a giant scream for emphasis.

"Nobody boxed me out, so I just went straight to the rim and I got the finish," Davila said. "I had to live for the moment."

****Before we forget, the crowd at Cassell Coliseum deserves some major kudos. I've been to a decent amount of big sporting events in my life, but I've never been somewhere that got as loud as it got Saturday night. Even 10 minutes before tipoff, the stands were filled, the fans were on their feet and the buzz in the arena was palpable.

"We feed off the fans," Delaney said. "If we didn’t have all those fans here, I don’t think we would have gotten those stops at the end of the game.”

But perhaps the greatest compliment came from Krzyzewski, a man whose been to his fair share of hostile environments over the years.

"It was like an NCAA game, it was that level," he said. "Their crowd was great, really supportive, and obviously that helps them."

****On a personal note, this was probably the most event-filled night of my journalism career. Not only did I get to watch No. 1 go down, a loose ball during the first half shattered the screen of my laptop, forcing me to quickly drive home during halftime to grab a back-up. But like the Hokies, I kept my composure in the second half and cranked out a story for Sunday's paper.

I'd say (and I'm sure most Tech fans would agree) that what the Hokies accomplished in the second half Saturday was a far greater achievement. Duke went on a 14-4 run and took a six-point lead with less than 10 minutes remaining as Virginia Tech struggled to score.

But with its NCAA tournament hopes hanging in the balance, the Hokies never gave in and showed the sort of maturity that a team hoping to be a part of March Madness should. And now, they have a win many associated with Virginia Tech will never forget.

“I think these kids have been through so much and they haven’t gotten that reward," Greenberg said. "I think that we had the grandest of stages. You don’t get any bigger than the stage we played on tonight. And with everything these kids have been through, to see them grow, I think that’s the greatest thing for me."

By Mark Giannotto  | February 27, 2011; 1:27 AM ET
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Next: Is Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg the ACC coach of the year?


I thought that commentators were supposed to be neutral. If it is true that Digger Phelps gave a pep talk to the Virginia Tech basketball team, then, I believe ESPN should reprimand him, if not outright fire him. I am sure that both Jayson Williams and Jay Bilas favor Duke. However, they never show it. Digger Phelps, in my opionion should be let go. He is a big bag of wind, anyway.

Posted by: Grammy3 | March 1, 2011 5:50 PM | Report abuse

The game was on ESPN, right? Somebody had to pick the cHokies or viewers might be inclined to leave. So ESPN picked Phelps to "select" VT, him being the least informed about BB. (And ESPN meanwhile, praying that there wouldn't be a blowout.)

If the cHokies lose their next game after the Duke upset, will it be because they didn't have a pep talk? Or will they be living up to their nickname - THE cHokies ??

Posted by: JEGman | March 1, 2011 11:34 PM | Report abuse

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