Hokies Rally to Redemption, Relief
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg hustled through the handshake line last night and sprinted ahead, until he was alone. He skipped off the court, balled both fists and howled, a scream that sounded something like, "Aaaaaaoow!"
Greenberg had followed one of the most embarrassing losses of his career with one of his most meaningful victories, a 69-65 comeback win at Maryland. After three consecutive losses, the Hokies ensured they would be defined not by their horrendous effort at North Carolina on Saturday, but by the resiliency they showed early in the season and reprised last night.
"We knew if we were to lose right here, the season may be in a little bit of jeopardy," guard A.D. Vassallo said. "But now we're right back to it. We had to win, period."
As the final seconds ticked away, a trio of Hokies celebrated at midcourt. Malcolm Delaney pointed at the Maryland student section, Hank Thorns defiantly clapped along with their taunts and Deron Washington giggled as he looked toward the fans. When they started derisively chanting "N-I-T," all three Hokies laughed together and slapped hands.
"I think that might be wrong," Washington said. "I think we got a good chance if we keep playing the way we've been playing."
"It basically was a relief," Thorns said. "That's the first time we smiled that hard in a couple weeks. It gets some things off our chest."
The Hokies have three home games in a row, beginning Saturday against Georgia Tech, before finishing the season at Clemson. Virginia Tech would need to run the table to feel confident about its spot in the NCAA tournament, but a road victory against Maryland gave it hope.
The malaise from Chapel Hill returned for the opening minutes, as Virginia Tech fell behind 16-4. Greenberg tried to shock his team; he acted "like a jerk," he said, and drew a technical foul midway through the first half.
"If we were going to go down, we were going to go down fighting," Greenberg said. "If it meant me making a total [fool] of myself, it meant me making a total [fool] of myself. If they cared at all for the program, and for me and for what we're trying do and what we've built this program on, they were going to go down with me. They responded."
Virginia Tech charged back by frantically turning Maryland's missed shots and turnovers into easy baskets and finding Vassallo, who scored a team-high 19, for three-pointers in transition. Thorns was the catalyst, making four of his six steals in the second half and forcing the ball upcourt.
Greenberg had challenged Jeff Allen in the pregame meal in front of the team, telling him he needed to start to playing like an all-conference player. Allen played his most assertive offensive game of the season, spinning around and boring through Bambale Osby in the post down the stretch. He finished with 14 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals.
At game's end, Allen raised both hands in the air, index fingers extended. For three days, the Hokies lived with the embarrassment of the 39-point shellacking at North Carolina. For a few moments, it disappeared.
"That really hurt me," Greenberg said. "It's hurt me for 72 hours. I'll be honest with you. That eats at me. I have a lot of faults. But one fault is not passion."