By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 11:55 PM
MANHATTAN, KAN. - After barely missing out on the NCAA Tournament the past three seasons, Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg gave in to the critics. With all of his starters returning this season, he bulked up his nonconference schedule, hoping it would finally get this group over the hump come March.
That journey began Tuesday in the plains of Kansas, but the Hokies' first test did not go as planned. Undermanned and outmuscled, No. 22 Virginia Tech simply couldn't match No. 3 Kansas State's brawn and suffered its first loss of this young season, 73-57.
With the Hokies leading 40-39 with more than 13 minutes remaining in the second half, forward Jeff Allen picked up his fourth foul trying to draw a charge on Kansas State star Jacob Pullen, and Virginia Tech never recovered.
With Allen on the bench, the Wildcats grabbed six offensive rebounds on the next two possessions after snagging just three the entire first half. From there, the Hokies unraveled amidst a litany of turnovers while Kansas State continued to pound the glass.
Allen and forward Terrell Bell fouled out before the game was over. Junior Victor Davila, the tallest player Greenberg had at his disposal, was also saddled with four fouls for much of the second half. As a result, the Wildcats' 34 points in the paint - Virginia Tech had just 16 - proved to be the difference.
"We've got a very small margin of error," Greenberg said. "We played some lineups out there, quite honestly, that we haven't even practiced with."
Backed by a raucous crowd of 12,528 at Bramlage Coliseum, Kansas State capitalized on the Hokies' depleted front court and caught fire late from three-point range to spur runs of 14-4 and 11-0.
Senior guard Malcolm Delaney had a game-high 22 points and dished out five assists for Virginia Tech. Guard Dorenzo Hudson finished with 12 points and freshman Jarell Eddie added eight. But the Hokies shot just 34.5 percent from the field and made just five of their 17 three-pointers.
More important, they could not match the wave of players the Wildcats brought off their bench. Even with forward Curtis Kelly in street clothes due to disciplinary reasons, Kansas State used 13 players, and its reserves outscored the Hokies bench, 37-10. Virginia Tech was outrebounded, 27-16, in the second half.
"We played with five guards most of the game and they've got 7-foot, 6-9, 6-7; it's hard," Delaney said. "You can block them out, but sometimes they were just tapping them in over our head. . . . They just worked harder than us on the glass."
The first half featured 26 fouls, and the infractions took their toll on both teams. Pullen, the Big 12's preseason player of the year, was on the floor for all of two minutes before halftime but managed to pick up three fouls. He had 13 points for the game.
The Hokies, meanwhile, saw their worst fears realized when Davila and Allen (eight points, five rebounds) got into foul trouble early. With forwards Allan Chaney (heart), Cadarian Raines (foot) and J.T. Thompson (knee) already injured and watching from the bench, the height discrepancy forced Greenberg to switch to a vanilla 2-3 zone midway through the first half.
Despite that, Virginia Tech managed to outrebound Kansas State, 21-19, before halftime. The Wildcats were limited to just three second-chance points.
Virginia Tech stayed within striking distance, and the largest lead before halftime came when Kansas State pulled ahead 23-16. But behind 14 first-half points from Delaney, the Hokies clawed to within one, 30-29, heading into the second half.
Any momentum gained came to a sudden halt when Virginia Tech's foul-induced nightmare continued into the second half.
Unlike past years, though, the Hokies' schedule gives them more chances to secure the marquee nonconference win that eluded them for three years.
At least that was Greenberg's plan in the preseason.
"Last time I checked it's Nov. 16th," Greenberg said. "We didn't gain anything today, we didn't lose anything today; today was a push. Today was an opportunity lost."