By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 1:00 AM
BLACKSBURG, VA. - There really was no need to explain the stakes to the sellout crowd that crammed into Cassell Coliseum on Saturday night.
The Virginia Tech men's basketball team, once again on the NCAA tournament bubble as Selection Sunday approaches, was facing No. 1 Duke. It had the potential to be just the kind of signature victory that had escaped the Hokies in recent years.
This time, though, Virginia Tech answered the bell.
Virginia Tech (19-8, 9-5 ACC) made just one of its four free throws in the waning moments, but the Hokies forced a turnover by Duke's Seth Curry with the Blue Devils down by just three points in the closing seconds. A three-pointer by senior Malcolm Delaney (11 points) with two minutes remaining ultimately provided the final margin. Delaney was just 4 of 13 from the field up until that point.
The win was Virginia Tech's third over a No. 1 ranked team during Coach Seth Greenberg's eight seasons in Blacksburg, and greatly improved the Hokies' chances of securing their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007.
"This evening was just one of those magical moments," said Greenberg, who was on the verge of tears as he made his way through the thousands of fans exulting on the court. "For this group that's won a lot of games, to have this stage and embrace it and have it not be a burden, that was pretty exciting."
Virginia Tech's key run came with less than five minutes remaining and the Blue Devils clinging to a five-point lead, the time of the game when Duke usually "imposes its will," Greenberg told his team during a timeout in play.
By the time Duke (26-3, 12-2) committed a goaltending violation on an Allen post move, the Hokies were on a 9-0 run and had taken their first lead since the 17 minute 19 second mark of the second half, 59-55.
Virginia Tech actually stretched its lead to five points twice to start the second half, but the Blue Devils responded with a 14-4 run to open their largest lead of the game, 51-45. The Hokies, meanwhile, had just one made field goal over the course of nearly eight minutes until Delaney ended the surge with a layup just before a media timeout with 9:20 remaining.
"A lot of teams down by six to Duke would have folded up and let Duke take the game away," Delaney said. "But we didn't. We buckled down and got stops."
The excitement for this game was palpable on campus from the moment students woke up. Nearly 3,200 boisterous fans, armed with creative signs and dressed in costumes, packed Cassell Coliseum for the morning broadcast of ESPN's popular pregame show, "College GameDay."
Later that night, a capacity crowd of 9,847 was in a frenzy even before tip-off, and the Hokies took advantage by opening a 9-4 lead on the defending national champions.
Duke, though, soon found its bearings and a back-and-forth game commenced. After the Blue Devils went on a 12-5 run to take their first lead of the game at the nine-minute mark, Virginia Tech responded with an 8-2 run to regain momentum. The spurt was led by Allen, who finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, his ninth double-double in the past 10 games.
They weren't enough to keep Virginia Tech's own seniors from earning perhaps the marquee win of their careers. Though they upset No. 1 Wake Forest back on January 2009, that win came away from home with the pressure not nearly as high.
With less than two seconds remaining, Allen stood at the free throw line with a four-point lead - icing a victory but also trying to savor a moment that's been a long time coming for Virginia Tech's players and fans alike.
"You just beat the number one team in the nation; there's a lot going through your mind," Allen said. "It was a struggle. It was not easy at all. They hit us with a run; we hit them back with a run. We just didn't give up."