- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

ATLANTA

Virginia Tech’s effectiveness all season spun around the play of its three stars, especially on offense.

Turns out the rest of the Hokies’ regulars can make a serious difference on defense.

Dorenzo Hudson shut down Miami’s Jack McClinton and J.T. Thompson was active in the middle, helping eighth-seeded Virginia Tech throttle ninth-seeded Miami 65-47 in the first round of the ACC tournament.

It was the fewest points the Hokies (18-13) allowed all season and the first time they defeated an ACC opponent by double figures, a tribute to a stingy defense that kept Virginia Tech in the NCAA tournament chase.

“All year,” Thompson marveled. “We haven’t played defense like that in a long time.”

The Hokies advanced to the ACC quarterfinals behind 17 points from Malcolm Delaney, locking up a date with top-seeded North Carolina in Friday’s first game at the Georgia Dome.

Delaney started the game covering McClinton, an all-conference guard who scored nine points on 4-for-11 shooting. Hudson soon switched onto him, hounding the senior as the Hurricanes (18-12) bumbled away their chance at a second straight NCAA berth.

Miami’s offense revolves around McClinton. But he took only five first-half shots and didn’t score in the first 16 minutes as the Hokies darted to a big lead.

“We couldn’t let him get off to a good start,” Delaney said. “If he makes his first two shots, there’s no way you can guard him.”

The Hurricanes, meantime, didn’t have much of an answer for Thompson. While Delaney and A.D. Vassallo didn’t have their strongest shooting days, Thompson provided a crucial lift in the paint for a team eager to move past a rough finish to the regular season.

Virginia Tech dropped six of its last seven and, despite a solid resume featuring road defeats of Clemson, Miami and Wake Forest, didn’t have the recent performance of a team worthy of NCAA inclusion. But the Hokies were far from a tight group; they never trailed, and Miami never got within a possession after the first two minutes.

“There’s so much pressure on the tournament, they lose track,” coach Seth Greenberg said. “Two years ago, these guys were in vans going to AAU games, playing at 8 in the morning, then 2 and then 4. Enjoy this. Hopefully that just helped us relax and go out and play.”

There wasn’t much reason to worry. The Hokies built a 14-point lead in the first half, only to see Miami whittle it to 28-24 at the break. Vassallo connected on a 3-pointer on the first possession of the second half and followed up with a jumper on the next possession as Virginia Tech was never seriously threatened again.

It was the sort of game Greenberg no doubt hoped to see even earlier. But producing the team’s second-largest rout of the season showed Virginia Tech is capable of playing its way into the NCAA tournament field this weekend.

“I think that’s what we did today,” Delaney said. “We’re looking at it as a fresh start. We’re 1-0, and I think we’ll use it tomorrow. We’re not going to worry about what people are saying on ESPN.”

Those folks won’t get the Hokies into their preferred postseason tournament, but Hudson and Thompson can. If both perform as they did Thursday - well but with the fear of getting edged out of the NCAA field for the second straight year - it is a possibility.

“We knew if we lost this, we’d have to go home and play in the NIT,” Thompson said. “We always said we didn’t want to go back to that.”

With another win Friday, the Hokies probably won’t have to.

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