The moment that gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win of the year Sunday evening really began earlier this week with a conversation between Coach Seth Greenberg and guard Dorenzo Hudson, before the Hokies’ fourth straight loss, to No. 8 North Carolina on Thursday night.
That’s when Greenberg first explained to Hudson why he would be coming off the bench for the first time all season against the Tar Heels. The fifth-year senior had been slumping, and Greenberg could tell from Hudson’s body language that he was exacerbating his problems.
“You could see he was getting beaten down,” Greenberg said. “So I just said, ‘Look, let’s take a step back. Your minutes are not gonna change. The way we use you is not gonna change.’ ”
That Hudson exploded for 16 first-half points in the Hokies’ loss to North Carolina three days ago was the first good sign that Greenberg’s move would prove beneficial. But in Virginia Tech’s 47-45 upset of No. 16 Virginia on Sunday night, Hudson may have finally gotten his mojo back for good — and not a moment too soon for a young Hokies team whose season was teetering on disaster.
Hudson scored six of his 12 points in the final 2 minutes 12 seconds, including a three-pointer from the corner with 16.5 seconds left that proved to be the game-winning basket in Virginia Tech’s first road win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 12 Clemson in February 2009.
“It takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders,” Hudson said, a smile on his face for the first time in nearly a month. Virginia Tech’s last victory came on New Year’s Eve at Oklahoma State when Hudson scored 18 points. “It was very tough for the older guys because we’ve never lost four in a row, I don’t believe, since I’ve been here. It’s a boost for everybody on our team.”
For the first time all season, Hudson went to the post down the stretch, taking advantage of Virginia’s four-guard lineup. He drew a shooting foul on Virginia’s Sammy Zeglinski and and hit a nice jump-hook over freshman Malcolm Brogdon in the waning moments, significant achievements in a game where points were at a premium. It was the lowest scoring victory for the Hokies since a 45-43 win over George Washington in February 1997.
Hudson said his poise was in part due to associate head coach James Johnson telling him in the final minutes of the game that “this is what fifth-year seniors do.”
But before this week, Hudson had endured a distraction-filled final year in Blacksburg. Early on in the season, he suffered a knee injury. Then last month he became embroiled in some legal issues when his apartment was broken into during an alleged home invasion involving Virginia Tech place kicker Cody Journell.
Through it all, Hudson hadn’t seemed like the player that once scored 42 points against Seton Hall and earned third team all-ACC honors in 2009 before suffering a season-ending foot injury a year ago. But the move to the bench appears to have rekindled something in Hudson’s game.
“It works good for me. I feel like when I’m on the bench I study the game a little more than I usually do than when I come up and start the game,” he said. “When I’m on the bench, I’m trying to see what’s going on, where the shots are gonna come from. I’m just trying to embrace my role right now.”
Hudson’s comfort level rubbed off on his teammates Sunday. Though the Hokies scored a season-low 47 points, they shot 45.2 percent from the field — the first time they’ve been above 40 percent against an ACC foe — and kept their composure when Virginia went on an 8-0 run and took a one-point lead with about ten minutes remaining in the second half.
Hudson’s veteran back-court mate, Erick Green, added 15 points, including 11 in the second half as the Hokies clawed for every inch against a Cavaliers squad hellbent on slowing the pace as much as possible.
Virginia Tech’s front court, coming off a disastrous showing against North Carolina, held Virginia’s Mike Scott to just 10 points and six rebounds with aggressive double teams. The Hokies’ defense overall was very strong as well. The Cavaliers had just five field goals in the first half and went 1 of 14 from three-point range for the game.
“We got back to who we were and that’s being tough-minded,” Greenberg said. “I just told the kids in the locker room, ‘This was terrific. Now we’ve got to understand how we did this.’ ”
But his most important conversation of the day happened with 26 seconds on clock as he drew up a final play with the Hokies leading by one. That’s when Greenberg turned to Hudson and told him, “Dorenzo, you’re in that corner. Be shot-ready.”
The senior soon swished a three-pointer and Virginia Tech emerged from Charlottesville with a major upset and a huge confidence booster after a sometimes-demoralizing losing streak.
“I’m hoping he feels great about himself,” Greenberg said. “That kid’s busted his tail. To see something good happen to him, to see something good happen to our team in general, but again this is just a baby step.”
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