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Loss to Virginia leaves Virginia Tech with 'small margin for error'

By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2011; 11:40 PM

CHARLOTTESVILLE - As Virginia Tech began to digest just how Virginia managed to earn a regular-season sweep of this in-state rivalry with a 61-54 victory Saturday, Coach Seth Greenberg delivered a simple and clear message in the locker room - and it had nothing to do with how badly the Hokies may have damaged their chances of making the NCAA tournament.

When the Hokies return home to Blacksburg, he said, "our only concern is Tuesday's game" against Wake Forest.

Forget about committing seven turnovers in the game's first 10 minutes. Forget about getting outrebounded by a team that entered Saturday among the worst in the nation on the glass. Forget about the defensive lapses that allowed the Cavaliers to hit 11 three-pointers.

"We don't got time to have a pity party and be sad," senior Jeff Allen said.

Faced with a slow pace that played right into Virginia's hands, the Hokies allowed it to affect their own possessions, forcing the action and settling for too many jump shots on the offensive end. With the Cavaliers intent on taking as much time off the clock as possible, Virginia Tech often gave in defensively as the shot clock was about to expire.

Afterward, Greenberg said Virginia not only won the game, but also the "battle of wills" over the style of play. More importantly, though, he saw a Hokies team that didn't resemble the one that had reeled off 13 wins in 16 games since the Cavaliers upset the Hokies in December.

"Our body language today wasn't what it had been," Greenberg said. "We didn't carry ourselves the way we've been carrying ourselves. That's probably the most disappointing."

There were a few bright spots. Senior Malcolm Delaney once again led all scorers with 22 points, and Allen notched his seventh straight double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds.

But unlike the Hokies' past two wins, when they averaged more than 96 points and all five starters scored in double figures, their stars got very little help. Point guard Erick Green had just two assists, and forward Terrell Bell attempted only two shots after hitting five three-pointers against Maryland on Tuesday.

Virginia Tech's bench, meanwhile, was held scoreless and barely played in the second half, a move Greenberg called a "coach's decision."

But any questions about how this loss could be viewed by the NCAA tournament selection committee next month were met with blank stares or outright refusals to acknowledge how potentially damaging this latest defeat may become.

"I don't care about the tournament," Delaney said. "We can't control what goes on in the NCAA tournament right now. We've got four games and the ACC tournament and we'll worry about the rest of the stuff after that."

Last February, a month before they fell short of an NCAA tournament bid, the Hokies suffered a similarly confusing loss to a Boston College team that finished the season under .500. And though the tournament field is bigger and the bubble softer this year, Virginia Tech's resume is weaker, with three losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 and just one win against teams in the RPI top 50.

So no matter how hard the Hokies try to forget it, the damage done Saturday will be readily apparent.

"We do have a small margin for error now," Green said. "We can't have any more slip-ups like this."

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