BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg spent much of his halftime talk Sunday night reminding his young team that even though it held a lead, the first five minutes would be most crucial facing a Kansas State squad that has made a habit of playing its best basketball in the second half this season.
But in another example of the growing pains these Hokies may endure this season, the guidance went on deaf ears. Virginia Tech came out with little energy following its coach’s talk and watched the Wildcats escape from Cassell Coliseum with a 69-61 victory.
“Message sent, not message received, and that was the problem,” Greenberg lamented after his Hokies suffered their second straight loss after starting the year 5-1.
The Wildcats (5-0) used two big runs after halftime, including a 14-3 surge to start the second half, and quickly regained the lead as Virginia Tech struggled to generate much offense amid 13 turnovers. Freshman Robert Brown led the Hokies with 15 points off the bench. Guard Erick Green added 14 points, but finished 4 of 17 from the floor.
As a team, Virginia Tech shot just 33.8 percent from the field, the third time in four games the Hokies have finished below 35 percent. Virginia Tech actually outrebounded Kansas State, but it couldn’t overcome a one-point, one-rebound performance from veteran big man Victor Davila.
Reserves Cadarian Raines and C.J. Barksdale provided a boost in the first half, combining for 12 points and nine rebounds with Davila in foul trouble. But the Wildcats still finished with 20 second-chance points as Greenberg decided to stick with Davila throughout the second half.
Kansas State also got a game-high 17 points and 14 rebounds from Washington native Jamar Samuels, including 14 points in the decisive second half when the Wildcats went ahead for good.
Coming off a three-point loss at Minnesota on Wednesday night, the Hokies were up six after a spirited first half. But almost immediately, the Wildcats went on their 14-3 run to start the half, getting several easy dunks from Samuels and forward Jordan Henriquez to take a 36-31 lead.
The run had Greenberg livid as he ripped his jacket off in disgust and implored his team to play better defense during a timeout.
“I just thought they were tougher than us,” Greenberg said. “Right from the beginning of the second half, we were a step behind them.”
The show of emotion seemed to work as the Hokies soon found their bearings and tied the score at 36 on a three-pointer by Brown with just more than 13 minutes remaining. After Kansas State pulled ahead by five on a three-pointer by guard Will Spradling, the Hokies managed to tie the score again at 43 on a free throw by Davila after he got a steal and was intentionally fouled by Henriquez on the ensuing fast break.
Soon, though, Kansas State went on a 10-0 run as Virginia Tech went more than four minutes without a point. Green ended the run with a floater, and Brown hit a three-pointer that brought the Hokies within five with less than 40 seconds remaining. But Virginia Tech had found its shooting touch too late, and now must consider how it let its second winnable game in a week get away.
“They wanted it more. They were hungrier,” Brown said after Greenberg gave his team a longer-than-usual postgame talk. “We’ve learned that we’re a good team and we can compete with anybody. We just got to hit shots.”