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February 14, 2012

With his performance against Clemson, Finney-Smith busts himself and Hokies out of slump

By: Jimmy Robertson

On a Friday night, the one actually before the Hokies’ game with Clemson, Tech head coach Seth Greenberg had nothing better to do, so he contacted Dorian Finney-Smith and asked him to meet at the Hokies’ practice facility for a little extra shooting practice.

Finney-Smith, also with nothing else to do on a Friday night, agreed. So the two met, along with Greenberg’s dog.

“He was the rebounder,” Greenberg joked of the dog.

Joking aside, the extra work paid off, as Finney-Smith snapped a miserable shooting slump and led the Hokies to a win in the process. Behind his 12 points, including a couple of 3-pointers, the Hokies held on to beat Clemson 67-65 for just their second ACC victory of the season and their first at Cassell Coliseum.

For Finney-Smith, a top-50 recruit, the game snapped a six-game slide in which he hadn’t hit a basket from the floor.

I didn't know how to get out of it,” Finney-Smith said of his slump. “But my team supported me, and my coach supported me.

“It was frustrating. I hadn't made a shot in six games, so it was real frustrating.”

To get a little more consistency out of Finney-Smith’s shooting, Greenberg has been working one-on-one with the freshman from Portsmouth, Va., to fix a few mechanical flaws in Finney-Smith’s shot. The young man tends to shoot the ball over his shoulder instead of over his head, and he also tends to shoot the ball on the way down instead of at the top of his jump. That has caused him to leave shots short.

He was holding on to the ball too long, and his release point was too far back,” Greenberg said. “We've worked on getting him into his shooting pocket. It's not fixed, but I thought it was remarkably better [against Clemson].”

Finney-Smith made 5 of 8 from the floor, including 2 of 3 from beyond the 3-point arc. He got off to a quick start, scoring on a driving layup on Tech’s first possession, and he never let up after that.

“I screamed a little bit, too, after it went in,” Finney-Smith said.

His biggest basket of the game came with just under six minutes to play. He found himself open in the corner and buried a 3-pointer with 5:57 left that gave the Hokies a 14-point lead. It turned out to be the Hokies’ last basket, too, as Tech scored only three points on free throws down the stretch and barely held on for the victory.

The same shot I hit in the corner was the same shot I worked on yesterday [Friday],” Finney-Smith said.

He shot that last 3-pointer in the corner with a lot of confidence,” Greenberg said. “He stepped into it and didn't give it a lot of thought. I thought that was a big play.”

Greenberg has stated on several occasions that Finney-Smith’s shot remains a work in progress. After all, he hadn’t shot 50 percent or better from the floor since Tech’s win over North Florida on Dec. 19 and has only done so on four occasions through the Clemson game.

But at least Finney-Smith can draw some confidence from his performance against Clemson, and he got to see his hard work rewarded.

I’m just telling you right now, one, the kid is one of the best kids I’ve ever coached. Ever. Thirty-five years. Ever coached,” Greenberg said. “No. 2, he’s going to be really, really special, and I have no doubts in my mind about that. We’ve just got to help him through it, and that’s part of coaching.”

Rankin moves into starting role

In the Duke and Clemson games, Greenberg elected to start freshman guard Marquis Rankin at the point guard spot and move Robert Brown into a reserve role. Brown had been starting in place of Dorenzo Hudson, who now comes off the bench.

Rankin played well in the first two starts of his career, scoring eight points in each game. He made 3 of 6 from the floor in both games and hit a 3-pointer in both. He committed just three turnovers combined in the two games.

I was thinking defensive presence and getting us in the open court in transition,” Greenberg said after the Duke game of his reasons for starting Rankin. “I know he's a playmaker. I thought he did pretty well. I thought he did some good things. He competes. The problem is he'll go two days, and then he'll tweak his knee and miss two days of practice. He's not close to being 100 percent."

Rankin missed the first seven games of the season while recovering from knee surgery.

Hudson now coming off the bench

For the first time since last year’s game against Mississippi State – his last game before shutting things down for the season because of a foot injury – Dorenzo Hudson did not start a game. Greenberg elected to go with Robert Brown over Hudson in Tech’s game against No. 8 North Carolina, calling the decision a “coach’s decision.”

Hudson has done well in his new role. In his first six games coming off the bench, he averaged 11.3 points per game, while shooting 47.7 percent from the floor, including 50 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

The fifth-year senior from Charlotte scored in double figures in his first four games off the bench, starting with a 16-point performance in the Hokies’ 82-68 loss to the Tar Heels. In that game, he buried four 3-pointers, tying a previous career high that came in a 2010 meeting at Miami. In fact, all 16 of his points came in the first half.

And against Virginia, Hudson hit the game-winning 3-pointer, drilling a 3 with 16.5 seconds left that lifted Tech to a 47-45 victory. He scored 12 points – including six of the Hokies’ final eight points of the game.

“What I talked to him about was being an Energizer bunny and that your minutes aren’t going to be affected drastically,” Greenberg said of Hudson coming off the bench. “I thought he was putting a lot of pressure on himself.

“Dorenzo is a good kid. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s three classes away from graduation. It’s nice to see something nice happen to him because he’s always the first guy in the gym and the last to leave.”

For the time being, Greenberg plans on leaving Hudson in his current role as a spark off the bench. Hudson, to his credit, has embraced the role.

“Whatever Coach decides to do,” Hudson said. “I’m here for the team and trying to make the team better. Whatever they [the coaches] decide to do, I’ll go along for the ride.”

Eddie establishes career high for rebounds

Tech forward Jarell Eddie often finds himself playing in the post given Tech’s lack of depth, but he manages to hold his own, at least on the boards. The sophomore from Charlotte grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds in the Hokies’ 47-45 victory over UVa. He bettered that mark in Tech’s next game, grabbing 14 rebounds the Hokies’ 70-68 loss to BYU.

His previous career high of nine rebounds came last season in Tech’s win at Wake Forest. For the season, he’s averaging nearly six rebounds per game – a number that ranks second on the team.