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December 10, 2010

Hokies optimistic despite early-season struggles

By: Jimmy Robertson

Malcolm Delaney scored 26 points in Tech�s loss to UVa and will shortly be in the top five on Tech�s all-time career scoring list.

Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg was feeling poorly before the Hokies took to the court against Virginia in the conference opener for both squads at Cassell Coliseum on Dec. 5, and what he saw transpire certainly didn’t alleviate his symptoms.

But Tech’s 57-54 loss to the Cavaliers hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for a team that came into this season with such high expectations.

“I’m not worried,” Greenberg said. “The second half, I thought we did some good things. We’ve got to get more people contributing. That’s the biggest thing.

“I know it doesn’t make for good copy, but the last time I checked, we’ve got 23 games left. We can win 18 of them, and all of the sudden, life would be great. But we’re not going to win any of them if we don’t block out on the free-throw line. We’re not going to win any of them if we don’t come up with a 50-50 ball. And we’re not going to win any of them unless we play with a sense of urgency all the time. We have a small margin of error. We didn’t have a sense of urgency in the first 20 minutes.”

The loss to UVa left the Hokies at 4-4 on the season and marked their third consecutive defeat. Two of those losses came to teams ranked in The Associated Press poll as of Dec. 6 (Purdue and UNLV). Actually, three of Tech’s four losses came to teams ranked in The AP poll as of Dec. 6 (Kansas State, Purdue and UNLV).

Tech didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in that three-game slide, making just 41.5 percent from the floor, and didn’t score more than 60 points in any of those games. But Greenberg pointed more toward the Hokies’ defense, especially against UVa. Tech allowed UVa to shoot 55 percent from the floor in the first half, score 36 first-half points and enabled the Cavaliers to build a 16-point bulge at one point.

“Giving up 36 points in the first half to that team is where the game was lost,” Greenberg said.

“There is no way we should have started the game off like that,” said Malcolm Delaney, who scored a game-high 26 points. “That was horrible. We didn’t play good defensively, and offensively, we didn’t do anything.”

To its credit, Tech came back in the second half, cutting that deficit to a basket on two occasions. But a defensive breakdown led to UVa’s Mike Scott running free down the court and resulted in Jeff Allen’s intentional foul. Scott hit two free throws and then the Cavaliers hit two more, resulting in four points and giving UVa a six-point lead. Also, the Hokies failed to block out on the free-throw line, and while that occasion didn’t cost them points, it cost them precious time off the clock.

Those are little things, as Greenberg stated. Similar things happened in the Purdue loss, and 12 missed free throws cost the Hokies in the UNLV game. Tech easily could be 7-1 after eight games, but its margin for error is slim.

“We’re an experienced, talented, but thin team right now,” Greenberg said. “We don’t have the depth we’d like to have. We haven’t created that Energizer bunny coming off the bench that a JT Thompson would give us. We’ve got to find that guy. When we get in a lull like we got in the first half, we don't have a guy right now that's coming off [the bench] that’s helping us to that extent. That’s the biggest thing we’ve got to develop and we’ve got to get some other guys playing to the level we expect them to play at.

“I think it’s all little things. I don’t think it’s a big thing. We had good possessions [against UVa]. We’ve got to get out more in transition. We made two or three just bad decision in transition. But it’s little things. What’s beaten us is not coming up with a loose ball or coming up with a free-throw block-out.”

Opportunity lost versus Purdue

Tech missed a golden opportunity to record a win over a ranked opponent, falling 58-55 in overtime to Purdue in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game played at Cassell Coliseum on Dec. 1. The Hokies turned the ball over on their final two possessions and it proved costly.

Allen paced Tech with 14 points and had nine rebounds, as the Hokies out-rebounded Purdue 42-34. Victor Davila played his best game of the season, scoring 12 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking three shots.

Delaney struggled in this one, hitting just 2-of-18 from the floor and 1-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc. He finished with nine points.

“A lot,” Delaney said when asked how much this loss hurt. “I played horrible. We missed free throws [Tech went 15-of-21 from the line]. We missed block outs. When we needed second-chance points, we didn’t get them. We played hard, but it wasn’t good enough.”

Jajuan Johnson, a 6-foot-10 senior, finished the game with 29 points for Purdue – one short of his career high.

Hokies finish second in 76 Classic

The Hokies won two of three games at the 76 Classic held over the Thanksgiving holiday in Anaheim, Calif., beating Cal State Northridge 72-56 and Oklahoma State 56-51 before falling to UNLV 71-59 in the championship game.

The Hokies had a chance to claim the title, but turnovers and terrible free-throw shooting against the Running Rebels spelled doom for Tech. The Hokies turned the ball over 18 times and made just 9-of-21 from the free-throw line. Davila missed five free throws and Allen and Delaney – the Hokies’ best free-throw shooter – missed three each.

It also hurt that the Hokies got just three points from their bench.

“We need more guys contributing,” Greenberg said on his postgame radio show after the game. “It’s plain and simple. But we were 9-of-21 from the free-throw line and we committed 18 turnovers and we were still in position to win the basketball game.

“We improved offensively and we did some positive things. We’ve got to get better, but we got better this trip. This game [UNLV] was there to be won. We didn’t do enough things to win the game.”

Delaney moves up the charts

Delaney earned all-tournament honors for his efforts in the 76 Classic, scoring at least 16 points in all three games, including a 30-point outburst against UNLV in the championship game. He hit a career-high seven 3-pointers in that game, surpassing his previous career high of six against both Charleston Southern (Dec. 19, 2009) and Clemson (Jan. 29, 2009).

Delaney broke into the top 10 on Tech’s all-time scoring list earlier this season, passing the likes of Chris Smith (1,635 points), Bill Matthews (1,652), Bryant Matthews (1,656) and Wally Lancaster (1,696).

After eight games, Delaney had 1,781 points and needed just 41 to break into the top five on Tech’s all-time scoring list.

Allen adds to double-double totals

Allen scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Hokies’ win over Cal State Northridge in Anaheim, marking his second double-double of the season. It also marked the 30th double-double of his career – the most by any active ACC player. UVa’s Mike Scott is the next player on that list with 22 career double-doubles.