User ID: Password:

April 12, 2010

Tech's 2009-10 season comes to a close with NIT loss to Rhode Island

By: Jimmy Robertson

Dorenzo Hudson scored 27 points in the Hokies’ victory over UConn in the NIT and finished the season scoring in double figures in the final 11 games.

Only minutes after the Hokies’ season-ending loss to Rhode Island, Tech coach Seth Greenberg sat down to address the media and spoke in reverent, hushed tones.

It was hard for him to digest a good 2009-10 season with the bitter taste of how it ended.

“I’m not one who can appreciate and enjoy much,” he said. “I’ll let other people do that. I’ll look back and see where we’ve got to get better. That’s the biggest thing right now.”

Tech’s season – one in which the Hokies tied a school record with 25 wins – ended sourly with a 79-72 loss to the Rams in an NIT quarterfinal game at Cassell Coliseum. Tech was looking for its first trip to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals since 1995, but instead lost at home in the NIT for the third straight year.

The difference, though, between this ending and years past was how it happened. The Hokies led by 12 with 14:43 remaining and appeared to have the game comfortably in control, shooting 70 percent from the floor at that point and whipping the 7,000 strong at Cassell into a frenzy.

But Tech made just two shots in the final 15 minutes, and defensively, couldn’t get a timely stop, as the Rams used a 13-0 run to get back in the game. Rhode Island made all the big plays in the final two minutes, including a tough jumper by Keith Cothran that gave it the lead for good at 73-71 and then a stick-back of his own miss by Lamonte Ulmer with 10.6 seconds remaining for a four-point lead. Then they made all four free-throw attempts in the final seven seconds to seal the win.

In other words, Rhode Island did what the Hokies had been doing all season – until this game.

Victor Davila, who scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in Tech’s victory over UConn, will be one of several starters returning for the Hokies next season.

“We’ve had different guys step up on different nights and help us win,” Greenberg said. “But we just didn’t do those things that we normally do. I don’t know if it was the stage or if it was pressure. There are so many factors that go into it. I’m just real disappointed.”

“It hurts because we invested so much into the program during the offseason,” Tech guard Dorenzo Hudson said. “So this is going to hurt more than any [loss].

“We fought hard. We did what we needed to do. We just couldn’t come up with this win to get us to New York. We’ve got everyone coming back next year, so we’re looking forward to a better season next year.”

Before looking ahead, the Hokies first ought to look back and savor a good season. They came within one win of breaking the school record for victories set by the 1994-95 team. They recorded victories over defending national champion North Carolina, NCAA Tournament participants Clemson, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, and NIT participants Seton Hall and Connecticut.

In all, a solid effort.

Looking forward, Tech appears primed for a huge 2010-11 season. The Hokies return five seniors and all five starters. The team’s top 10 scorers return, plus Tech gets Allan Chaney, the transfer from Florida, who sat out this past season.

Success, though, isn’t guaranteed. The Hokies need to improve in all areas, but certain ones in particular.

They need to shoot the ball with a little more accuracy. Tech finished 11th in the ACC in shooting percentage (42.7 percent) and last in 3-point shooting (30.7). Guard Malcolm Delaney shoots it well, but needs better shot selection. Hudson shoots it well. The rest of the team, though, needs to improve, and keeping Jeff Allen out of foul trouble and subsequently getting him the ball in the post more would help, too.

They also need a little more depth. Delaney and Hudson played 39 minutes against Rhode Island, and Terrell Bell played 36. By contrast, no Rhode Island player saw more than 31 minutes against the Hokies. Depth, though, shouldn’t be a problem next season. Injuries to Cadarian Raines and Ben Boggs (more on them later) hindered the depth down the stretch, but they both will be ready next fall.

Finally, they need to play better defensively. Tech improved drastically in this area compared to last season. But there’s room for improvement – just ask Greenberg.

“We’ve got to improve our ball-screen defense,” he said. “If I watched us [as an opposing coach] … we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to rebound better. We’ve got a lot of areas where we need to improve if we want to become the team we want to be.”

They want to be an NCAA Tournament team next season. That’s every program’s goal, and the Hokies should settle for nothing less. They have the pieces, and they have the talent and coaching.

“That’s what we’re looking at – next year,” Delaney said. “We lost the game [against Rhode Island]. We can’t go back and play it again. So we’ve got to work hard, regroup and finish what we’ve started.”

’Zo terrific in the NIT

Perhaps no player in the ACC improved more this season than Hudson, who averaged 15.2 points per game and shot nearly 44 percent from the floor – good for a guard.

In the NIT, he was even better. Hudson averaged 21.6 points per game and shot 47.1 percent from the floor (36.3 from 3) in three games – despite being bothered by a sore foot and ankle.

His best performance came when he scored 17 of his game-high 27 points in the second half to lift Tech past UConn 65-63 in the second round. He also hit the biggest shot of the game.

Following a Tech timeout with the Hokies trailing 63-62, Hudson came off a curl and hit a 17-foot jumper with 14.1 seconds remaining to give Tech a one-point lead. It turned out to be the game winner.

“I like the mid-range game,” Hudson said. “That’s the shot I like to take. It felt real good (the last one). I shot that shot five or six times tonight and made most of the shots that I took from there. When I lifted my hand, I knew it was going in.”

Hudson made 12 of 20 from the floor and grabbed six rebounds. It marked his best scoring performance since he poured in a career-high 41 against Seton Hall in Cancun on Jan. 2.

He finished the season by scoring in double figures in 11 straight games (he sat out the Georgia Tech game).

Hokies respond to missing out on NCAA Tournament

Tech opened NIT play with an impressive 81-61 victory over Quinnipiac, roughly 72 hours after finding out they had not made the NCAA Tournament. Delaney scored 25 points, hitting 9 of 15 from the floor and five 3-pointers in the win.

“They probably handled this situation [not making the NCAA Tournament] better than I did, to be honest,” Greenberg said after the game. “It’s been a hard 72 hours. We had everything to lose and not a whole lot to gain, and I think we’re all probably emotionally drained. But for them to come out and play as hard as they did and to be ready, that’s probably what hurt me so much. Because that’s who they are.”

By the way, Delaney scored more than 20 points in 18 games this season and has done so 32 times for his career.

Injuries down the stretch hinder youngsters

The Hokies finished the season without the services of Boggs and Raines, both of whom went down with injuries.

Boggs, a guard from Roanoke, Va., went down with a high ankle sprain that he suffered in practice on March 14 right before the NIT began. He appeared in 25 games for the Hokies this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds per game.

Raines, a post player from Petersburg, Va., re-injured a foot that caused him to miss the first six games of this season. He played in the Quinnipiac game, scoring four points, but then injured the foot on March 20, just two days before the UConn game.

He finished the season averaging 1.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 21 games.

Delaney and Hudson earn All-ACC honors

Delaney and Hudson both earned All-ACC honors as voted on by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. Delaney was a unanimous selection to the first team after leading the league in scoring, while Hudson received a nod to the third team. Hudson was the Hokies’ second-leading scorer and, statistically, the most improved scorer in the ACC this season. His 41 points tied for the most points scored by an ACC player this season.