BLACKSBURG, Va. — Four years in a row Dorenzo Hudson has seen the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team relegated to the National Invitational Tournament come Selection Sunday, and each time the Hokies have eventually fallen short of advancing to play at Madison Square Garden for the tournament’s semifinals.
On Tuesday night, though, the redshirt senior finally earned his team a trip to the Big Apple. Paced by Hudson’s game-high 31 points, Virginia Tech beat Florida International, 78-63, in a second-round matchup of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Hokies will now face No. 5 Syracuseat Madison Square Garden on Nov. 23.
Hudson’s impact wasn’t just felt on the court. The Charlotte native had played in New York twice before when the Hokies participated in holiday tournaments there during his first two years in Blacksburg, so before Tuesday’s game, he spoke to his teammates about the significance of playing in the “mecca of basketball.”
“It’s the Garden. Everybody wants to go in there and play good. Everybody wants to go in there and see the banners hanging,” said Hudson, the lone senior on a team that features nine freshmen and sophomores. “For the young guys, it’s gonna be an eye-opener for them to see the tradition of the Garden.”
But one Hokies’ youngster seems determined to prove he won’t be fazed by anything. Freshman Dorian Finney-Smith once again showed Virginia Tech fans Tuesday why he was such a ballyhooed recruit coming out of Portsmouth, Va., notching his second double-double in three games since joining the college ranks. The 6-foot-8 forward finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Perhaps the most refreshing sign came when Finney-Smith joked after the game that he didn’t really listen to Hudson’s speech about all of the Hokies’ past NIT failures. This is a new group, he said, and “I just wanted to play in Madison Square Garden.”
The bigger news, however, revolved around junior Erick Green. He scored 12 points, but was forced to leave the contest midway through the second half after aggravating the strained Achilles’ tendon that kept him out of the Hokies’ season-opening victory over East Tennessee State last Saturday.
Green did not return to the game, but said afterwards he expected to be healthy in time to face Syracuse next week.
With or without Green, Virginia Tech’s defense never seemed to waver. Florida International shot just 35.1 percent from the field a night after upsetting George Mason in overtime. Against the Patriots, guards Jeremy Allen and DeJuan Wright combined for 43 points, but the Hokies mixture of man-to-man and zone defenses held the duo to just 22 points.
The Hokies, on the other hand, hit nearly 70 percent of their shots after halftime and ran away with the game following a tightly contested first half.
And so as Coach Seth Greenberg spoke to reporters during his postgame news conference, the Long Island native began talking nostalgically about taking the train as a youth into New York’s Penn Station and the chills he used to get walking into Madison Square Garden.
This latest trip was a long time coming.
“For me selfishly, it’s awesome,” Greenberg said. “For our team and Virginia Tech, it’s a great accomplishment to be on a great stage in the world’s greatest arena.”