User ID: Password:

February 11, 2010

Hokies need to keep doing what they've been doing

By: Jimmy Robertson

Moments after a thrilling, though not aesthetically pleasing, basketball victory over Clemson, a reporter lobbed a question toward Malcolm Delaney, asking him if he would expect to have the lead at halftime after shooting 18 percent and being out-rebounded.

“15 percent,” Delaney politely corrected.

He almost took pride in that number. And maybe he should have.

It’s been that type of season for the Hokies, who somehow beat North Carolina and Clemson at home without shooting better than 40 percent from the floor in either game. Granted, North Carolina may be slumping, but the Tar Heels are the defending national champions and both North Carolina (first) and Clemson (third) were picked to finish ahead of the Hokies (eighth) this season by the pundits.

Most pundits look at returning starters and McDonald’s All-Americans and tradition to make their picks, but they often fail to consider intangibles – defense, work ethic, toughness, chemistry, valuing the basketball, role-embracing and other coach-speak terms that usually mean the difference between winning and losing.

Therein lies the secret to the Hokies’ success so far this season. For starters, at the halfway point of the ACC race, Tech ranked third in the league in scoring defense, fifth in field-goal percentage defense and first in turnover margin. North Carolina turned the ball over 19 times, Clemson 17. Tech only turned it over 10 times in each game.

The Hokies hang around in games and then display the toughness to win it at the end – as evidenced by a 6-1 record in games decided by five points or less.

“We kind of win ugly games,” Delaney said after the Clemson game. “That’s our team. We’re not the best scoring team. We’re a scrappy team and that’s the type of game we like playing. We also play good defense. These are the types of games we’ve been winning and good teams win these types of games.”

“We’re pretty resilient,” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “I don’t know if we’re good, but we’re resilient. We play hard and we take care of the ball.”

Yes, they defend. Yes, they take care of the basketball. But that’s relegating Tech’s success in terms of numbers only. There is more.

They also embrace their roles. Delaney has uncannily found a way to get his points at the free-throw line. Dorenzo Hudson continues to flourish as a No. 2 scorer, along with being a top perimeter defender.

Jeff Allen has played much harder – and better – of late, and Terrell Bell has developed into a tremendous rebounder and shot blocker. JT Thompson loves his sixth-man role, and Erick Green provides quality minutes off the bench.

“We have a great group of guys and we have a lot of different guys who can step up,” Greenberg said. “But we’re a long way from being good.

“We’re a tough team and we’re competitive. They really like each other. That helps a lot.”

Tech will need more of all this as it enters the stretch run. The win over Clemson marked its first of the season over a team ranked among the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index – a barometer the NCAA selection committee uses to award at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament.

But the stretch run certainly provides opportunities for further enhancement. The Hokies play home games against Wake and Maryland, two top-50 teams – and Tech is perfect at Cassell this season. A road game at Georgia Tech, another top-50 team, closes the regular season.

“We have a good team and a team that can contend for an ACC championship, as well as go to the NCAAs,” Delaney said. “We’ve got that in our sight.”

The Hokies, though, need to take the season on a one-game-at-a-time basis, which may sound like a tired cliché, but it rings true. For them, their margin of error is frighteningly small.

“Am I pleased? Am I excited? Am I proud? Do I think this can be a special group? No doubt about it,” Greenberg said. “But also understand there are four weeks left in the season. We’ve got to get better. That’s just the reality.”

Success for Tech is about chemistry and toughness and taking care of the ball, and of course, defense, perhaps more than anything else. If they continue their stingy ways, they will win a lot more games.

And winning games is always pretty – no matter how ugly the process sometimes is to get them.