By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2006
NEW YORK, Dec. 21 -- Coach Seth Greenberg locked himself in his office, alone with all five game tapes from the season to that point. Virginia Tech had lost two of three games at a Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Orlando, and Greenberg was going to find out why.
After reviewing each game, Greenberg realized he had made a mistake. He had installed a new defense in the preseason that relied on jumping into passing lanes, but he overestimated his team's athleticism, something that became evident when he watched the tape of his team's losses to Western Michigan and Southern Illinois.
So Greenberg implemented a new defense, one that has righted the Hokies' season and led Virginia Tech to an 80-61 pummeling of Seton Hall on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, its fifth victory in six games. The Hokies caused 21 turnovers, made 16 steals and blocked 12 shots against the overmatched Pirates, who went scoreless for a stretch of 7 minutes 56 seconds in the second half.
"We felt like they couldn't do nothing to stop us," junior Deron Washington said. "We felt like we were in the zone. We were denying everything, knocking down every open shot. We were just in the zone."
Greenberg pinpointed this game before the season for the cachet it could bring the program. It was a nationally televised game (albeit on ESPNU) in basketball's most famous arena and the opening act for a game between No. 22 Gonzaga and No. 6 Duke. While the atmosphere didn't match Greenberg's ideal vision -- about 1,000 fans dotted the cavernous Garden at tip-off, causing the coach to compare it to a morgue -- the result did.
"This is the home of college basketball," said Greenberg, who grew up on Long Island. "I got a kick out of all the Holiday Festival [basketball tournament] banners. I used to come in on the train and watch that with my dad."
Before the game, senior guard Jamon Gordon asked Greenberg if he could address the team. It was an odd request from Gordon, a player who usually avoids the spotlight.
"I did it because these games right here are the games we always tend to lose," Gordon said. "We just had to come out strong, especially since it was in the Garden."
Gordon backed it up, scoring 22 points and registering seven steals, vaulting him to the top 10 in the country in steals per game with 3.1. The Hokies (8-3) bolted to an 11-1 lead, with Gordon scoring seven points in the first three minutes to surpass 1,000 for his career.
"If I talk, I show up," Gordon said.
The Hokies followed with defense, which keyed a 20-0 run in the second half. The Pirates didn't score from the 17:08 mark until 9:12 remained and saw their deficit grow from four to 60-36. Earlier in the season, Greenberg's defense dared teams to penetrate and the Hokies played gaps. Now, they deny penetration and play in front of teams, closing lanes before they open and challenge shots.
The charge Thursday night was led by Washington, a 6-foot-7 forward-guard with spring-loaded legs and arms that stretch like rubber. He menaced Seton Hall (6-2) all night on defense, blocking four shots and making four steals. With his length, he pestered Seton Hall's ballhandlers at the top of the key, but he also roamed under the hoop and guarded the basket on help defense, looking for blocks.
Washington did just that with 15:26 left in the second half, igniting Virginia Tech's offense. He blocked a shot 20 feet away from the basket, which started a one-man fast break when Gordon grabbed the loose ball and cruised to the basket, converted a layup and got fouled for a three-point play. After another defensive stop and breakout, Gordon slammed the ball over Brian Laing, causing the Hokies' bench to erupt.
Meanwhile, first-year coach Bobby Gonzalez, who is prone to histrionics, pleaded with his team, the officials -- anyone who would listen -- to make the pounding stop. He watched the Pirates shoot 27.7 percent, a new low for a team that had only one loss (which was to unheralded Fairleigh Dickinson).
Still, the game counts as a road win against a Big East team, the type of win that Virginia Tech narrowly has failed to achieve so often. So as Gordon headed back into the locker room, he allowed himself another outburst.
"That's a big win, fellas," Gordon yelped as he sauntered into the Hokies' locker room. "That's big right there."