By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2011; 12:37 AM
ATLANTA - It was less than a week ago that the Virginia Tech men's basketball team quieted a crowd of nearly 18,000 at Maryland with its superior play. But faced with a half-empty arena Tuesday night, the Hokies lost their cool.
Virginia Tech showed neither polish nor resiliency during crunch time against an inferior Georgia Tech team and the result was a 72-57 loss. More important, it represents a serious step back as the Hokies attempt to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
Reserve Brian Oliver led the Yellow Jackets with 28 points, including four three-pointers against Virginia Tech's 2-3 zone. Junior Iman Shumpert, meanwhile, became the first ACC player since Maryland's Greivis Vasquez in February 2009 to record a triple-double in a conference game (22 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and 7 steals).
"We talked before the game about being smart and poised, and down the stretch we were neither," Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said. "We got caught up in the fray and we didn't play with a sense of purpose."
Ultimately, it was a series of physical encounters that decided the Hokies' fate. With the score tied at 47, senior Malcolm Delaney drew a controversial charge while Shumpert looked to be on a fast break. On the ensuing possession, Oliver shoved Delaney in the face with an open hand while playing defense, drawing a personal foul.
The next time the Hokies had the ball, forward Jeff Allen (18 points, 11 rebounds) got tangled up underneath going for a loose ball with several Yellow Jackets and exchanged words with Shumpert. Both were given technical fouls.
But it was Georgia Tech (10-9, 3-3) that emerged from the fracas with momentum, and Oliver scored eight straight Yellow Jacket points to give them a 57-53 lead with less than seven minutes remaining in the game.
After Allen closed the gap with a jump hook, Delaney then made critical errors on consecutive possessions. First, he was stripped by Shumpert, who coasted in for an easy fast-break layup. Delaney followed up his miscue with another, throwing an ill-advised pass in the direction of Allen. Oliver responded with another three-pointer to give Georgia Tech a 62-55 lead with three minutes remaining in the game.
The Yellow Jackets closed the contest on a 15-2 run as the Hokies committed several more turnovers and finished with 18 for the game. Virginia Tech (13-6, 3-3) entered Tuesday with wins in nine of its previous 10 games.
"We haven't been playing like this," said Delaney, who was held to just eight points. "It was everything. Too many turnovers. Not enough stops in the zone. They just outplayed us."
It didn't help that the Hokies had an unbelievably poor night shooting from the perimeter. Virginia Tech finished with 40 points in the paint, 12 free throws, and just two made jump shots - both of which came from senior Terrell Bell.
They hit just 39.3 percent of their shots and only one of their 11 three-point attempts. The Yellow Jackets came into Tuesday night as the worst team in the ACC in terms of defending the three-point line.
Early on, though, that didn't seem to be a problem. After the Yellow Jackets took a 8-2 lead, the easy looks came in bunches. Virginia Tech went on a 13-2 run. Sophomore Erick Green led the way with nine points in the games first eight minutes.
Then Allen and junior Victor Davila (13 points, seven rebounds) went to work on the interior. The duo combined for 22 points in the first half, mostly on easy putbacks and post moves.
But the Yellow Jackets would not go away. Thanks to Oliver's big game, Georgia Tech's bench outscored the Hokies, 35-2. And when Shumpert hit a layup and drew a foul after stealing a lazy inbounds pass by Allen, they closed to within one.
It remained a back-and-forth affair to begin the second half, and tensions began to rise as a result. That, it seems, is when the Hokies' night began to unravel.
"I just didn't think we had the resolve in terms of remaining focused about the game and not all the other stuff that surrounds the game," Greenberg said. "When we needed to really execute, we didn't execute."
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