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December 9, 2008

Last-second losses leave Hokies heartbroken

By: Jimmy Robertson

A.D. Vassallo

Following the Hokies’ game with Wisconsin, an exhausted A.D. Vassallo slumped in one of the leather couches in the men’s basketball lounge area with an exasperated expression on his face.

“At least he hit a shot from the free-throw line,” Vassallo said. “That kind of hurts me a little less. At least it wasn’t from halfcourt.”
For the second time this season, Vassallo and the Hokies felt incredulous at the end of a game, as for the second time, they fell victim to a last-second shot.

The “he” to whom Vassallo is referring is Wisconsin’s Trevon Hughes, who drove the distance of the court and dropped in a soft, free-throw line jumper with less than a second remaining to lift the Badgers past the Hokies 74-72 at Cassell Coliseum in the first game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

The defeat came just 10 days after the Hokies fell in similar fashion to Xavier in the Puerto Rico Tip-off in San Juan. In that one, Tech took a 62-60 lead with less than three seconds remaining in overtime, but Xavier in-bounded the basketball quickly and Dante Jackson banked in a halfcourt heave at the buzzer to lift the Musketeers to a 63-62 victory.

The loss to Wisconsin, though, was particularly tortuous considering the furious comeback the Hokies made behind the torrid shooting of Vassallo. The senior from Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, cut Wisconsin’s lead to 70-69 by hitting a 3-pointer with 17.9 seconds to go. Jason Bohannon’s two free throws with 11.6 seconds remaining gave the Badgers a 72-69 lead, but Vassallo struck again, hitting a 3-pointer with seven ticks left to tie the game at 72 – the Hokies’ first tie since the 13:24 mark of the first half.

He scored 24 of his career-high 30 points in the second half. His previous career high of 29 came against Wake Forest in January of 2006. Against the Badgers, he hit 12-of-17 from the floor, including 6-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists.

The loss marked the Hokies’ third of the young season, and perhaps more to the point, marked a second missed opportunity for Tech to notch a prime non-conference win over a team ranked in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index – one of the standards used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Wisconsin entered the game at No. 20 in the RPI.

After the game, though, Tech coach Seth Greenberg urged some patience and perspective when asked about this very topic.
“It’s Dec. 1st,” Greenberg said. “Everyone is going to lose games. No one is going to go undefeated – well, maybe one team (UNC). It’s a disappointing loss. No one gets eliminated on Dec. 1st and no one gets in the [NCAA] Tournament on Dec. 1st.
“We’re going to play probably 14 games against top-50 teams in our league. We’re going to have plenty of chances. We’ve lost two games on the last play of the game. Does that mean we’re a bad team? I don’t think so. I think we’re a good team that lost two games on the last play. We’re not a great team. If we were a great team, we would have come up with those two stops. We’re not a great team yet, but we have a chance to be a great team.”

“I hope they [Tech players] understand there are 20 some games left,” Vassallo said, echoing his coach. “We’ve only played seven games so far. Even though it hurts, we’ve got a lot of games left. We’ve got to make sure we start winning games. We’ve got to keep working. We’ve got to keep on grinding and go from there.”

The Hokies do have a couple of ‘name’ non-conference games remaining on their slate, including Georgia, last year’s SEC tournament champions, and St. John’s. Then, it’s on to the ACC schedule.

With that in mind, there’s little time for the Hokies to think about what could have been. In fact, there’s no time for that. It’s time to move on, according to Vassallo.

“If I could think about it the whole night and then get the game back and win, I’d do it,” Vassallo said. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. I can go home and play video games and try to forget about it and look for the next game. That’s all we can do.”

“We got better this week,” Greenberg said. “We played five sophomores and one freshman. We’ve got another sophomore sitting out. We’ve got two seniors and a junior. We’re still a young team. We’ve got a lot of growth to go. I see us continuing to get better.”

Davila opening some eyes

Before the season, Greenberg said freshman Victor Davila possessed a ton of potential, and the Canovanas, Puerto Rico, native is proving that to be true.

In games against Elon and Wisconsin, Davila came off the bench to score 16 and 13 points, respectively. Against Elon, he hit 7-of-9 from the floor and grabbed four rebounds, while against the Badgers, he nailed 5-of-7 from the floor and grabbed three rebounds.

“The coaches told me before the game to just go out and play my game,” Davila said after the Elon win. “I’m more confident now than I was before [earlier in the season]. Now I feel like I’m more into the flow of the game.”

“We’ve got to get him the ball,” Greenberg said. “The guy can score. He understands how to score. But he’s got to rebound. He’s got to be a lot tougher rebounding the ball and defending the post. But he can score.”

Allen named to all-tourney team in Puerto Rico

Tech played in the Puerto Rico Tip-off in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and finished a disappointing 1-2 in three games, beating Fairfield and falling to both Xavier and Seton Hall. The loss to Xavier came about when the Musketeers’ Jackson hit a halfcourt shot at the buzzer in overtime to lift Xavier to a 63-62 victory.

But Allen played outstanding down there, earning a spot on the all-tournament team. He scored in double figures in all three games, averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per game. He tied a career high when he grabbed 17 rebounds in the Hokies’ loss to Seton Hall. He hit 55 percent of his shots from the floor in this tournament.

Other notes from the tournament:

  • Vassallo, playing in his native country, averaged 16.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. But he scored just four points on 2-of-13 shooting from the floor in the loss to Xavier. He did, however, grab 10 boards in that game and dished out eight assists.
  • Interestingly, his four-point performance snapped his string of double-digit scoring performances at 13. Vassallo had scored in double figures in 36 of his previous 38 games heading into the Xavier game.
  • Malcolm Delaney scored 25 points in the loss to Seton Hall in San Juan, shattering his previous career high of 20 set last season in the Hokies’ 92-53 loss to North Carolina. He averaged 16.7 points and 4.7 assists per game in Puerto Rico.

Newell’s passing touches Greenberg

Pete Newell, a Hall of Fame basketball coach who is more widely known for his annual Big Man Camp in which he tutored many famous players on post skills, passed away on Nov. 17th at the age of 93, and Newell’s passing wasn’t lost on Greenberg, who had a close relationship with Newell dating back to his days at Long Beach State.

“Coach Newell is the best,” Greenberg said. “When I was at Long Beach State, our deal was, if I had a manager pick him up, he’d come and watch practice as long as I brought the Mexican food and the margaritas. He was the best. He’d sit there, and after we’d go to dinner, he’d tear apart everything we did.

“I’d drive him home after—I didn’t drink the margaritas; he did. We had the Mexican food—he loved nachos—and he’d sit there and take notes after practice. It was great.”

Newell coached Cal to the national championship in 1959 and also led the Olympic team to the gold medal in 1960 with a roster that included Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Jerry West.