Hokies Race Past Navy in Second Half

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 8, 2008

Given the way Virginia Tech's basketball season has started, a six-point halftime deficit to Navy could have created concern in Coach Seth Greenberg. Instead, the emotional coach was deliberate. Cut the turnovers. Drive the lane. Lock down Navy's best scorer.

"It was not ranting, raving, kicking, screaming, yelling," Greenberg said. "It was just, 'These are things we got to do. Let's come together to do them.' "

Greenberg's plan worked, turning the halftime margin into a 79-70 Virginia Tech win that was a sigh of relief for the Hokies and a sign of continued progress for the surging Midshipmen, albeit in a loss.

Playing in a less than half-full Verizon Center in the first game of the BB&T Classic, the Hokies (5-3) struggled to develop rhythm early. But Navy (7-2) also deserved credit for disturbing an ACC opponent. The Midshipmen's defensive switches in the first half did not allow the Hokies to introduce the offensive sets Greenberg wanted, while Navy's Kaleo Kina found ways to score. Twelve of Kina's 18 points came in the first half, and he also finished with 10 rebounds.

In the second half, Greenberg moved guard Malcolm Delaney off the ball and put Hank Thorns at point to speed up the game's pace. The tactic worked, as the Hokies went on a 23-4 run in the first seven minutes of the half to take a 51-38 lead. Delaney scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, adding six rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

Navy chipped away, eventually cutting the Hokies' lead to 73-69 with less than a minute to go. Virginia Tech countered by hitting 8 of 8 free throws in the final 39 seconds to seal the game. The Hokies finished 29 of 34 from the line, with Delaney going 11 for 11.

Thorns added 10 points, while A.D. Vassallo and District native Jeff Allen each had 17 points.

Delaney compared the Hokies' style when Thorns plays to the dribble-drive offense that Memphis has popularized. Vassallo said it makes the game easier because Delaney attracts attention as a scorer when he plays off the ball. Together, Thorns's presence provides a dizzying style that Delaney prefers.

"We've been working on it, but I told [Greenberg] we should spread it out a little bit," Delaney said. "They were fouling us, and we had to get to the line."

The shift diminished any hope for a Navy upset, which would have been a highlight of an early-season stretch that had seen the Midshipmen win seven consecutive games before last night's loss.

"We've got to stay in the moment of the game and not get caught up in the moment of what the game is all about," Navy Coach Billy Lange said. "I thought technically we lost ourselves a little bit on both ends."

Despite Lange's disappointment, there also was an urgency from the Hokies, who cannot afford to lose another nonconference game after dropping three of their first seven. The purpose of dissecting the schedule had been to find potential résumé victories. As it turns out, small-name spoilers are more prevalent.

The schedule provides five possible scares before the ACC schedule starts with Duke on Jan. 4. Each game will become increasingly critical.

"We've got a 24-hour cold," Greenberg said. "They're all things that we can fix."

Greenberg hopes they can be fixed before tomorrow's road game against Georgia, the only definite power-conference opponent remaining on the nonconference schedule. The Sunday-to-Tuesday turnaround is demanding -- Navy has one, too -- and the Hokies return to Blacksburg today before departing for Athens, Ga. Greenberg said he did not mind making such a scheduling sacrifice to play in the annual BB&T event in front of Washington-area Hokies fans.

Still, with no margin for error, Greenberg's deliberate halftime tone might become more animated if the deficits continue.

"I'm not doubting our team at all," Greenberg said. "It's not like we're terrible. It's like we're not as good as we'd like to be."

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