In the immediate aftermath of Virginia Tech’s fourth consecutive loss, this time an 82-68 defeat to No. 8 North Carolina, point guard Erick Green had his eyes pointed toward the ground in the Hokies’ locker room as he offered up another defense for his own team.
“People think we’re a bad team, but we’re really not,” he said
Perhaps more so than any of the other setbacks Virginia Tech has endured in ACC play thus far, that was actually the case for Green and company Thursday night. With the crowd amped, which made Cassell Coliseum the loudest it has been since last year’s upset of No. 1 Duke, the Hokies played well, especially before halftime. But as has been the case in six of their seven losses this year, they would relinquish a second-half advantage.
“We’re a young team that’s a work in progress,” Coach Seth Greenberg said. “It’s real easy to be doom and gloom and have a whole bunch of negative energy. That’s not gonna happen. No one said this was gonna be easy, but I think we took a step forward.”
So what exactly happened? Here’s a rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly from the Hokies’ latest defeat.
Greenberg hinted this week he was in search of an energy replacement for JT Thompson off the bench, and he debuted a potential solution to the problem Thursday night. Senior Dorenzo Hudson, mired in a 10-for-32 shooting slump this month, came off the bench for the first time this season, and at least for a while, delivered a throwback performance.
Hudson played 14 minutes in the first half, going 5 for 5 from the field and finishing with 16 points. He scored all 11 points during an 11-2 spurt that gave Virginia Tech a five-point lead going into halftime despite shooting just 40 percent. He was, however, held scoreless in the second half.
Even so, it was a significant moment for Hudson, who finally showed the sort of confident stroke that once allowed him to score 42 points against Seton Hall two years ago
His four three-pointers also ignited the first sellout crowd of the season at Cassell Coliseum. The student section was packed, and though there were some fans donning Carolina blue, fears of a Tar Heel invasion were overblown.
Attendance has been down so far this year. The announced crowd of 7,256 that showed up for Virginia Tech’s 63-59 loss to Florida State last week – when students were still on winter break – was the smallest for an ACC game since the Hokies joined the conference in 2004. But Greenberg was thankful for the support at Thursday night’s game.
“You need that. Even when you’re 0-4 and struggling when you have a young team, people get behind that young team,” he said. “ACC basketball is built on ownership and passion and energy. It wasn’t built, ‘Well we’re gonna have energy when we’re winning.’ It was built on, ‘This is my team.’ There’ll be some negavitity. That’s all part of it.
“My thing is the people [at Thursday’s game] were unbelievable. The crowd was great and you saw how the kids responded. We just couldn’t hang on with it.”
There was so much made about the outrageous three-point shooting performance by Devydas Dulkys and Florida State when the Seminoles blew out North Carolina last weekend. But Thursday night, the Hokies actually finished with one more three-pointer (13) than Florida State did against the Tar Heels (12). The Seminoles also committed 17 turnovers in their upset victory. Virginia Tech turned over the ball just eight times.
The difference came inside, where North Carolina was dominant against the Hokies. Virginia Tech got outrebounded, 28-9 in the second half and the Tar Heels’ front court (Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller) combined for 57 points, 33 rebounds, nine blocks and four steals.
“Barnes made some ridiculous shots,” Greenberg said. “The guy makes hard shots look easy. . . . He made one fade, he’s gonna make $3 million next year for that shot.”
North Carolina outscored the Hokies 38-14 in the paint, and won the second-chance points battle, 21-7. Aside from Jarell Eddie’s four three-pointers, the Hokies’ assortment of interior players combined for just nine points, 18 rebounds, two blocks and one steal.
Greenberg said the team’s gameplan was to “take [the ball] in to pitch it back out,” because of the shot-blocking capabilities of Henson and Zeller. That accounts for the the season-high 31 three-point attempts, but Green lamented afterward that “we got to get the ball down low more.”
One thing is certain: With Virginia’s Mike Scott on deck Sunday night, the Hokies’ big men don’t have much time to lick their wounds.
Virginia Tech finally broke the 60-point barrier in ACC play against the Tar Heels and four players finished in double figues, but the Hokies still haven’t shot better than 40 percent against a conference opponent this year. The second half, in particular, featured a bevy of bricks.
Virginia Tech made just 38.6 percent of its shots, including 22.2 percent (6 of 25) in the first 15 minutes of the second half when North Carolina blew open the game. During the Tar Heels’ decisive 26-2 run, Virginia Tech missed 14 straight shots and went more than nine minutes without a field goal.
The problem is that the Hokies haven’t been generating much offense when they can’t get out on the fast break. Too often this season, Virginia Tech’s half-court offense has broken down, relying on perimeter screens at the end of the shot clock expires and contested jumpers.
Greenberg liked the Hokies’ offense in the first half. They made smart decisions on when to up the tempo and got good looks whenever the shot clock did become a factor. “In the second half we didn’t have that same poise,” he said.
At one point during his postgame news conference, though, Greenberg defended his entire offensive system, saying his dribble-drive motion offense is “what we’ve chosen to do because of our undersized team.”
Whatever the solution may be – increasing the tempo will be likely be more effective against teams less talented than North Carolina – the Hokies need to score more points if they expect to emerge from this ACC-induced funk.