Virginia Tech vs. Clemson: Hokies' loss damages NCAA tournament chances

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2011

CLEMSON, S.C. - Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg had already grimaced and yelled plenty Saturday. But when a turnover by Hokies point guard Erick Green allowed Clemson's Tanner Smith to cruise in for an easy dunk, giving the Tigers their biggest lead of the second half with fewer than four minutes remaining, the coach had seen enough.

Greenberg proceeded to rip the sheets of paper he was holding in half, disgusted at what was transpiring on the floor. Those shredded documents very well could have represented Virginia Tech's NCAA tournament chances.

Needing a win to boost their postseason resume, the Hokies closed the regular season with a deflating 69-60 defeat at Clemson and now likely will need a strong run in the ACC tournament if they hope to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

That Virginia Tech faces such a predicament is both perplexing and fitting. Just last weekend, following an upset of then-No. 1 Duke, the Hokies appeared to be in good position to secure their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007 after three years of agony on the bubble.

Now, after Saturday's loss followed Tuesday's 76-61 defeat to Boston College, Greenberg and Co. can only hope they're able to rebound in time after following up one of the program's greatest wins with their first two-game losing streak since December.

"Everyone wants to know where we stand for the NCAAs - we got to win games. We're no different than anybody else. We've got a lot of company," Greenberg said. "You don't win your opening round of the ACC [tournament], you're in the NIT. There's no doubt about it. You win your opening game of the ACC [tournament], you're definitely still under discussion."

The Hokies' opponent on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C., depends on Sunday's matchup between Boston College and Wake Forest. If the Eagles win, Virginia Tech will be the No. 6 seed and face Georgia Tech in the first round at 9 p.m. If Boston College loses, the Hokies would be the No. 5 seed and face the Demon Deacons at 2 p.m.

Heading into Saturday, Virginia Tech hoped to avoid a first-round game altogether - a win over Clemson would have clinched a bye into the Friday's quarterfinals. But the Hokies didn't play like much of anything was at stake.

Virginia Tech committed 14 first-half turnovers, made just eight of its 37 shots in the second half and never led as a crowd of 10,000 purple-and-orange-clad fans celebrated senior day.

Senior Malcolm Delaney had a game-high 19 points but finished just 5 of 14 from the floor. Forward Jeff Allen nearly had as many turnovers (eight) as points (nine). Green, meanwhile, missed all but two of the 13 shots he took.

About the only positive was senior Terrell Bell, who notched his third-career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore Manny Atkins also added nine points off the bench.

"I don't think the defense did anything," Allen said. "I think we were just a little too amped and we tried to speed up and do some things that we don't normally do."

Clemson, whose NCAA tournament resume is nearly identical to Virginia Tech's, simply showed more desperation than the Hokies most of the afternoon, beating them down the floor for wide-open three-pointers and easy dunks while blocking seven shots on the defensive end. Senior Jerai Grant (DeMatha) led the way with 17 points, one of four Tigers to finish in double figures.

Afterward, Grant and classmate Demontez Stitt suggested the Hokies were so inaccurate during the second half because their legs were tired, something Delaney, Allen and Atkins all confirmed during postgame interviews. Greenberg, though, shot down any inquiries as to whether fatigue has played a major role in this late-season swoon.

But if there is one bright spot to the precarious position Virginia Tech now finds itself in, it's that these Hokies should be used to it by now. The past three years they've entered the postseason facing this exact same scenario - needing at least a couple wins to convince the NCAA tournament selection committee they deserve an at-large bid.

"We control our own destiny," Delaney said. "We can't worry about what people are saying now. If we want to get in the NCAA tournament, we can get there. It's still right there."

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