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January 17, 2012

Winning streak hopefully has Hokies ready for ACC competition

By: Jimmy Robertson

The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team closed 2011 on a winning note and a winning streak – and they hope that propels the Hokies to more success in the new year.

Dorenzo Hudson

The Hokies traveled halfway across the country to play Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., and they dropped the Cowboys on New Year’s Eve, snapping Oklahoma State’s 37-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents. The victory marked Tech’s sixth straight and put the Hokies at 11-3 entering the ACC opener against Wake Forest on Jan. 7.

“I like our team,” Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said. “I enjoy coaching them each and every day, and I think they’re a good group to be around. They’re trusting in each other. The thing I’m most impressed with is that we have six guys who haven’t played a lot of college basketball, and they’re learning how to compete and play together.

“We’re a long way from where we need to be. We’ve still got to get a lot tougher than we are right now. But as a group, we have nine guys who, on any given night, can step up and help us win a game. That’s a luxury. We have good chemistry and trust and respect for each other, but we’re still a long way away from where we need to be.”

There have been numerous positives to come out of the early part of the season. For starters, the Hokies display much more depth than in years past, as Greenberg often plays nine or 10 players in any given game. And any of those players are capable of producing.

Also, the Hokies – despite their lack of size inside – continue to rebound well and play good defense. They pounded Oklahoma State on the boards, 47-24.

“Hopefully, with our depth, we can stay out of foul trouble, and hopefully we can play more than one way,” Greenberg said. “Sometimes, guys struggle and you can get them out and give them a chance to collect themselves and charge them back up.

“Having numbers really makes practices better [too]. Guys know that they need to play well. But the biggest thing is we made a comeback against Oklahoma State with Robert Brown and C.J. Barksdale on the court, and the biggest cheerleaders were Dorian Finney-Smith and Jarell Eddie. To me, that speaks volumes about the potential of this team.”

That potential could lead to another top-four finish in the regular-season standings for the Hokies – something many wouldn’t have predicted before the season. After all, media pundits picked the Hokies to finish sixth in the league, but the ACC appears to be wide open outside of Duke and North Carolina.

“I haven’t spent a lot of time looking around the league,” Greenberg said. “I think the league is good. Florida State, you know, is going to be good. Virginia is playing at a high level. N.C. State has played a very difficult schedule. Maryland is really improved, and Georgia Tech has good wins.

“You go around the league, and it’s easy to downplay the league. But the league is extremely competitive. When you get in league play, it’s hard to win, no matter what.”

Tech notches huge road win at Oklahoma State

The Hokies rallied to knock off Oklahoma State 67-61 in Stillwater, Okla., on New Year’s Eve, picking up a quality non-conference win.

Tech trailed in the second half, but used a 20-3 run to take the lead. Oklahoma State came back and tied the game with 2:02 to go on a 3-pointer by Brian Williams.

But the Hokies scored the final six points in the game. Victor Davila – a career 50-percent free-throw shooter – drained two free throws with 1:30 left that gave Tech a 63-61 lead. The Cowboys had two chances to tie or take the lead, but missed two 3-point attempts. After the second of those attempts, the Cowboys fouled Dorenzo Hudson with 22 seconds left. Hudson made both free throws and gave the Hokies a 65-61 lead.

Keiton Page then missed a 3-pointer for Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys again fouled Hudson with seven seconds remaining. Hudson made both free throws to seal the game for Tech.

Hudson finished with 18 points, while Erick Green added 16.

Eddie with career night vs. Norfolk State

Eddie enjoyed the best game of his career in Tech’s 73-60 victory over Norfolk State on Dec. 11. The sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., scored a career-high 24 points, hitting 6 of 9 from the floor, including 5 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also made all seven of his free-throw attempts and grabbed seven rebounds as well.

His career high snapped his previous high of 17 points, which came last February in the Hokies’ win at Wake Forest. His five 3-pointers and his seven free throws were career highs. Also, his six field goals tied a career high.

“He’s long,” Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans said of Eddie. “He’s a good shooter, and he can attack the basket a little bit. But a lot of our focus was on [Erick] Green, and Eddie got some open looks and he was able to knock them down.”

‘’Erick [Green] is a great penetrator, and when he penetrates to the basket, it makes other defenders go to him,” Eddie said after the game. “So him being able to attack the basket like that enables other people to get open shots. I just happened to be the open player today.”

Eddie scored in double figures in six of Tech’s first 11 games. As a freshman, he only scored in double figures in two games.

Hudson snaps out of shooting slump

Hudson lit up Florida International with 31 points on Nov. 15 – the second-highest output of his career – but the senior fell into a shooting slump over the course of the next six games, failing to reach double figures in any of those six. That included a scoreless performance in the Hokies’ loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

But Hudson snapped out of the funk by scoring 15 points in the Hokies’ win over Campbell on Dec. 17. He made 5 of 11 from the floor, including 2 of 4 from beyond the 3-point arc. Then, in Tech’s next game – a win over North Florida – he paced the Hokies with 16 points, hitting 6 of 10 from the floor.

His 6-of-10 performance marked the first time he had made more than 50 percent of his shots since that FIU game in which he hit 8 of 13 on his way to 31 points.

It’s very nice to have a game like this,” Hudson said following the Campbell game. “I’ve been struggling, having a shooting slump or whatever you want to call it the last couple of games or so. It feels good to come out here and give the team a lift.”

“Dorenzo shot the ball,” Greenberg said. “He stepped into his shots. He attacked the basket. More importantly, he gave us energy. He led. I think he’s been afraid to lead the past few weeks because he had so much on his plate.”

Greenberg cited the stress of Hudson’s academic load as one of the reasons that the young man struggled toward the end of the semester.

Garland decides to transfer

Ty Garland, a guard from Philadelphia, decided to transfer from Tech to La Salle after the conclusion of the first semester.

Garland appeared in eight games this season, averaging 4.6 points per game. He started the season opener against East Tennessee State because of an Achilles injury to Erick Green and scored 13 points in the Hokies’ 64-53 win. He scored a career-high 18 points in Tech’s win over Monmouth.

But Garland saw his playing time decrease when freshman guard Marquis Rankin returned after missing the first seven games while recovering from knee surgery. Rankin averaged about 10 minutes per game in his first five games back.

“We are sorry to see Ty leave,” Greenberg said in a statement released by Tech. “Young people have dreams and aspirations, and they want to play. Tyrone wants to play. He is a fine student who is in good academic standing. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Garland appeared in 38 games in his career and averaged 3.1 points per game in his two seasons at Tech.