Virginia Tech point guard Erick Green knows many of his teammates are going through the rigors of ACC play for the first time. Growing up as a Maryland fan, he’s also well aware of how tough it can be to win at the Comcast Center.
But after watching the Hokies suffer their sixth loss in seven games, 73-69 to the Terrapins — the fifth time this month Virginia Tech has lost by four points or less — Green could no longer hold his tongue Saturday afternoon. The team’s leading scorer and captain is tired of the Hokies’ penchant for inconsistent play, especially now that they’re back in the ACC cellar with a 1-5 conference record.
“It starts with leadership and the main thing is getting these guys amped up,” said Green, who finished with a team-high 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting. “At the same time, when you step on the court you should already be fired up. Someone shouldn’t have to tell you: ‘Get up. This is a big game.’ . . . It should just come natural. We’re young; I’m not gonna use that as an excuse. But these young guys don’t really know what it’s like right now. So we got to get them ready.”
For the second game in a row, Virginia Tech was ice-cold shooting the ball in the first half and, just like its loss to BYU on Wednesday night, it ended up costing the Hokies after they made a gallant comeback following halftime.
Virginia Tech made just six of its 25 shots in the first half (24 percent) and fell behind by double digits when Maryland went on an 8-0 run with just more than eight minutes to go until halftime. The surge was punctuated when Terrapins forward Ashton Pankey went untouched on a dunk after a quick shot by Hokies guard Robert Brown on the other end.
The sequence forced Coach Seth Greenberg to call his second timeout in two minutes, and he spent much of it chewing out Brown before turning his attention to the rest of the team. Virginia Tech entered halftime trailing, 32-19.
“I think we took some bad shots, and I don’t think the bad shots were out of selfishness,” said Greenberg, who also lamented several easy looks the Hokies weren’t able to finish off. “I really think the bad shots were out of each and every individual wanted to help us rather than understanding we have to do that collectively.”
Green said assistant coach Rob Ehsan, in his first game at Comcast Center since joining Greenberg’s staff this summer after six years with former Maryland Coach Gary Williams, delivered an emotional halftime speech that helped get the Hokies going in the second half.
Virginia Tech shot 50 percent after halftime and had as many field goals in the final 1:49 of the game as it did the entire first half. But it wasn’t enough, even though the Hokies got 14 points apiece from seniors Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila, who also tied his season high with eight rebounds.
Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin (game-high 28 points) hit a tough step-back three-pointer with less than three minutes remaining after the Hokies had cut the deficit to five, and the Terrapins made just enough free throws down the stretch to eke out a narrow win.
“Thing is, it shouldn’t take a coach to get us fired up,” Green said.
The two consecutive sluggish first halves are also a major concern for Greenberg. On Saturday, he gave sophomore Cadarian Raines his first career start and brought freshman Dorian Finney-Smith, mired in an 0-for-21 slump the past five games, off the bench for the first time this season.
It was Greenberg’s second starting lineup adjustment in the past four games — the Hokies have started Brown and brought Hudson off the bench since their loss to No. 7 North Carolina last Thursday — and he indicated after the game that more changes could be on the horizon.
“We’re gonna look at everything we’re doing in terms of warmup and preparation,” he said.
But perhaps the most troubling part of all is that none of the Hokies’ players can seem to figure out any sort of rhyme or reason to their inconsistency, outside of youth. When this dispiriting month began three weeks ago, Virginia Tech lost at Wake Forest because of a terrible beginning to the contest. But a little more than a week ago, the Hokies came out blazing against North Carolina and took a lead into halftime.
When asked what exactly stands in the way of playing a complete game, Green could only shake his head and offer that, “we’re trying to figure that out ourselves right now.”
Greenberg tried to look at the bright side, reminding reporters that this season’s trajectory feels similar to the one his first team at Virginia Tech took with then-freshmen Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon. Those 2003-04 Hokies won their last five home games and four of their last five contests overall to qualify for the Big East tournament.
After Saturday, this year’s Virginia Tech team has five of its next seven games at Cassell Coliseum — although the slate doesn’t get any easier with No. 8 Duke coming to Blacksburg Thursday. “That’s why we’re not gonna be doom and gloom,” Greenberg said. “We’ve had some obstacles, but I’m not gonna throw a pity party.”
“It’s rough,” Hudson added. “You go through the summer trying to prepare for this, but a couple teams in the country are going through this right now. We just gotta stay with it, stay with the young guys while I’m here to try to teach them a little bit more while I can now. Just try to stay positive.”