GREENSBORO, N.C. — All season long as the losses piled up, Erick Green just kept on scoring. He led the nation in points and free throws, unfazed by defenses designed to stop him. This week, he joined the late Len Bias as the only players in ACC history to be named conference player of the year from a team with a losing league record.
But his final performance in a Hokies uniform was one he’d like to soon forget. With Green struggling the entire day, No. 12 seed Virginia Tech lost to fifth-seeded North Carolina State,80-63, Thursday in the first round of the ACC tournament.
Hounded by two and three Wolfpack players at a time, most notably point guard Lorenzo Brown, Green was held to 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting and committed four turnovers. It was just the fourth time this season he has been held to less than 20 points and his lowest output in 2013.
“It sucks it has to end,” said Green, who revealed after the game he played through an increasingly painful knee condition this season. “I’m gonna miss college basketball.”
Forward Jarell Eddie, Green’s roommate, scored a team-high 21 points, his best showing since Virginia Tech’s second game in ACC play in January. But the postmortem on a season that saw the Hokies (13-19) finish as the conference’s worst team focused on Green.
As Eddie put it, “The good I’m gonna take from this season is the way Erick Green played.”
“For him not to go out and get this win and not come out and score a lot of points like I thought he would, it’s kind of troubling,” sophomore Robert Brown said. “We really wanted that for him as a team. We wanted to win more, but individually we wanted him to go out on a high note.”
That proved too tall of a task facing the multi-faceted attack of North Carolina State (23-9), which shot 52.8 percent.
Forward Richard Howell spearheaded a dominant Wolfpack performance on the glass (North Carolina State outrebounded Virginia Tech, 40-25), finishing with 22 points on 11-of-13 shooting and 12 rebounds. Brown, meanwhile, got the best of Green on defense and dished out 12 assists to go along with nine points and seven rebounds. Junior C.J. Leslie added 15 points.
Early on, though, the Hokies hung close with North Carolina State, just like when they took the Wolfpack to overtime when these teams met in Raleigh, N.C., last month. All five of Virginia Tech’s starters scored a field goal in the opening six minutes and they collectively shot 50 percent from the field before halftime.
But when Green left the floor for 56 seconds late in the first half, North Carolina State took advantage with a 10-2 surge that Brown punctuated with two highlight-reel passes to freshman T.J. Warren and Leslie that led to consecutive fast-break dunks. The sequence, which came courtesy of two Virginia Tech turnovers, brought a crowd of mostly red- and white-clad fans out of their seats.
It wasn’t long before the Hokies’ offense stalled for good, and North Carolina State put the game out of reach with an 11-0 run that started six minutes into the second half. All that remained from there was Green’s send-off upon being removed from the game a final time with one minute remaining.
At Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson’s postgame news conference, he reflected on the times Green would tear up on the bench when he didn’t receive the playing time he expected during a rough freshman season. In a cruel twist, though, his spectacular senior year ended in much the same way, a towel over his mouth as he dabbed away tears and gazed into the Greensboro Coliseum rafters.
“He’s hurt right now, because he definitely didn’t want to go out this way,” Johnson said.