BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 21 -- A fresh bump protruded from Coleman Collins's forehead, earned when he knocked his head on the backboard during his turn in Virginia Tech's dunk procession Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum. During the runaway second half of Virginia Tech's 79-62 victory over Boston College, the Hokies swung on the rim and slapped the backboard after slams. They pumped fists and pointed at each other after jump shots.
All the swagger carried substance. Before the game, players read that Boston College star Jared Dudley had disparaged Virginia Tech's defense, and they used the words throughout the game.
"The guy made some comments in the paper that didn't sit well with anyone on our team," Zabian Dowdell said. "Anytime you're talking about us like that in the paper, that's like a slap in the face. We wanted to come out and pretty much try to embarrass them."
And they did. After halftime, the Hokies transformed a tight contest into a statement victory, as thorough a blowout as they have delivered all season. Avenging an embarrassing loss earlier in the season in Chestnut Hill, Mass., the Hokies leapt over the Eagles in the ACC standings and reclaimed second place after Virginia surprisingly lost at Miami.
With overwhelming defensive aggression, offensive flash and an overall edge, Virginia Tech scored the first 14 points of the second half and kept its foot on the Eagles' throats, allowing four points in the first 12 minutes of the period. They led by as many as 30, taking a 68-38 lead on a Jamon Gordon layup.
Players and Coach Seth Greenberg said Dudley provided a spark by saying before the game: "They're not the best defensive team we face. You'll get your looks and an opportunity to score."
"It was a little added motivation," Collins said. "That's defense, and we pride ourselves on it. This was kind of a statement game. When we come out with that swagger, we feel like we can play with any team in the country."
It came through loud and clear.
Against the Eagles earlier this month, Virginia Tech played zone to try to contain BC's strong front court and, as Deron Washington said, "We're not a zone team." The Hokies played man-to-man last night, with Washington checking Dudley. Highlight shows will replay Washington's array of dunks, but his defense was his largest contribution. He held Dudley, the ACC's leading scorer, to 15 points, seven of which came in the final, meaningless minutes. Washington scored 19 points himself.
"I've seen a couple games on TV, and I've been seeing how he played," Washington said. "It's being tough, because he tries to out-tough his opponent."
The Hokies followed Washington's lead, holding Boston College to 38.2 percent shooting and 30 points in the second half, 15 of which came in the final five minutes.
Dowdell led the offensive charge with 23 points, dribbling through BC's defense or pulling up for jump shots. Washington scored 19. A.D. Vassallo started for Lewis Witcher and made four three-pointers on his way to 18 points.
Along with Dudley's remarks, Greenberg gave a historical motivation for the performance. Since joining the ACC, Virginia Tech had defeated every league member except for Boston College.
"This was their opportunity for a special win," Greenberg said. "To kind of give them some closure of being able to compete with everyone in this conference that everyone said they couldn't compete in."
He gave that message to the Hokies before the game, and then looked, one by one, at the three senior starters and asked them what they were thinking.
"I can't even put into words," Gordon said.
"We need to win," Dowdell said.
"Coach, we're ready," Collins said.
The Hokies played with a swagger and toughness missing from their loss at North Carolina State on Saturday. Players openly smiled and clapped while playing defense, the crowd noise becoming deafening. They battered Boston College inside for rebounds. The Hokies toyed with Eagles, literally at points. Dowdell, on an inbounds play under the basket, threw the ball off BC forward John Oates's back, snatched the loose ball and laid it in.
By that time, the Hokies had ended the competitive phase of the game and continued to pile on YouTube dunks as Cassell shook. As Boston College's starters sat slumped on the bench, the game's final seconds ticking away, one thing had become abundantly clear.
"When we play," Greenberg said, "we're really good."