Last year when Virginia Tech made its only visit to Comcast Center, former Hokies guard and Baltimore native Malcolm Delaney raised the stakes when he called Maryland faithful “maybe the worst fans ever” days before the game. Forward Jeff Allen, from Washington, was also returning to College Park for the first time since making an obscene gesture towards the Terrapins student section in 2009.
Even Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg openly complained before last year’s game about the vulgarity of some Comcast Center fans, saying, “You talk about nasty environments, buying a ticket doesn’t give you a right to be abusive.”
But both Delaney and Allen have graduated, taking with them the emotion they brought upon returning to the area. Greenberg certainly had a softer tone Thursday when he discussed Maryland’s fan base with reporters.
“Now they just have me,” he joked. “They’ve got good fans. Maryland has always had great fans. They have great ownership in their program. Their students have always been engaged.”
A lot has changed since the Hokies swept the season series with Maryland a year ago. This time around when the two teams meet Saturday afternoon, Virginia Tech’s star player will have no animosity towards the Terrapins. In fact, point guard Erick Green, from Winchester, said this week he grew up idolizing Juan Dixon and Maryland’s 2002 national championship team.
Green is one of just three players who suited up for Virginia Tech against Maryland last season. He said his 24-point performance in a 74-57 Hokies win at Comcast Center a year ago was the result of all those childhood memories. “I just wanted to show off when I got out there.”
Even more noticeable is the presence of first-year Coach Mark Turgeon, who took over when Gary Williams retired after last season. The Terrapins named the Comcast Center floor in Williams’s honor Wednesday night before they lost to Duke, 74-61. For Virginia Tech assistant Rob Ehsan, it will be something of a homecoming after he spent six years on Williams’s staff in College Park.
Both teams enter Saturday looking to get their seasons back on track. The Hokies (12-8, 1-4) have lost five of their past six, including Wednesday’s two-point loss to BYU, and sit in second-to-last in the ACC. Maryland (12-7, 2-3) has lost three in a row and is currently outside the Ratings Percentage Index top 100 (104), but the Terrapins don’t have a bad loss on their resume yet.
Sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin is averaging an ACC-best 20.9 points per game this season, and will be the Hokies’ top priority defensively. He scored 25 points when Maryland lost, 91-83, in Blacksburg last February.
“When Stoglin’s making shots, they’re awfully hard to guard,” Greenberg said. “He’s so aggressive. He’s so confident. He’s not afraid to make a mistake. He’s a volume shooter and he’s a scorer and that’s who he is. But in the last few games, I think he’s done a really nice good job of making plays off of penetration and seeing plays earlier. . . . You want to make him take hard shots.”
Greenberg also believes 7-foot-1 center Alex Len has provided Maryland “a legitimate anchor” to its defense since he made his debut last month after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NCAA’s amateurism rules.
Len, an Antratsit, Ukraine native, actually visited Blacksburg this past summer after Ehsan – his original recruiter at Maryland – was hired by the Hokies. But Greenberg declined to discuss Len’s recruitment by Virginia Tech on Thursday.
However, Greenberg is hopeful the Hokies can get off to a better start than their loss to BYU on Wednesday, when they missed 16 shots, including several layups, to begin the game. But aside from a couple costly turnovers down the stretch, Greenberg was happy with his team’s effort against the Cougars. Virginia Tech held BYU to 33.3 percent shooting and shot 64 percent after halftime.
“We showed great resiliency and we were unbelievably efficient in what we wanted to do,” Greenberg said. “I can’t fault our guys. The adjustments we made at halftime, our guys, they couldn’t have been better, quite honestly.”
Greenberg admits his latest visit to College Park will be different facing Turgeon instead of Williams. He said the Terrapins don’t extend their defense as much anymore and run more sets on the offensive end, but “until you see them live, you never know. . . . We’ve had great games with Maryland and I’m sure this will be no different than when Gary was there.”
But if fans wondered about Greenberg’s resolve now that his Hokies have gone 1-5 the past three weeks, he left little doubt as he finished his chat with reporters Thursday.
“Who says we’re not gonna win games? There’s a lot of ACC games left. This team is gonna win games,” he said. “I’m really proud of where the program is. I’m disappointed about where we are today, but I’m proud of what we’re working towards. This bus is gonna keep rolling and we’re gonna keep coaching them and move forward.”