- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

Virginia Tech had a new kind of experience yesterday as it played its first-ever ACC tournament game.

“We got a police escort,” sophomore forward Coleman Collins said. “I have never seen that before in my life. We got a little of the fanfare.”

The Hokies’ taste of the big time was short-lived because of an abysmal second half while Georgia Tech, the 2004 national runner-up, played like a team ready for another deep run in the NCAA tournament in a 73-54 victory at MCI Center.

Virginia Tech (15-13) likely will settle for the NIT, but that is quite an accomplishment in coach Seth Greenberg’s second season. He inherited a program that had six consecutive losing seasons and hadn’t been in a postseason tournament since 1996. The Hokies went 15-14 as a member of the Big East last season.

This season Virginia Tech shocked the ACC by finishing in a tie for fourth with Georgia Tech at 8-8 after wins over Duke, Maryland and Georgia Tech. Though the Hokies’ poor tournament showing was disappointing, Greenberg sees it as another brick in laying a successful foundation.

“You don’t build something overnight, it’s a process,” said Greenberg, who previously coached at South Florida. “With the Internet, cell phones and everything else, we all want things to happen right away. Last year our first step was to have a winning season. This year getting to postseason play was a sign of progress. We are not Duke or North Carolina. It is going to take time.”

The Hokies return the core of this team with four underclass starters: sophomores Zabian Dowdell, Jamon Gordon and Collins and freshman Deron Washington.

“The nucleus of our team has another two or three years,” said Collins, a 6-foot-9 rebounding menace who had 18 in the Hokies’ upset of Duke. “But we are not quite there yet. We are not part of the [ACC] brotherhood per se. … We are still kind of on the outside looking in, but fourth place in our first year is nothing to be ashamed of.”

And while an NIT bid would be a bitter disappointment to a program like Maryland’s, it would be cause for excitement for the unheralded Hokies. Virginia Tech won the NIT in its last two visits, 1984 and 1995.

“It is big for us,” said Carlos Dixon, the team’s only senior. “We haven’t had postseason play at this school for nine years. Just knowing that we are going to get a chance to play is a good feeling.”

McCants returns

North Carolina guard Rashad McCants returned after missing four games with an intestinal ailment. Coach Roy Williams expected the Tar Heels’ leading scorer to play only a few brief spurts against Clemson, but McCants scored 13 points in 15 minutes. Williams feared McCants’ return after missing three weeks would prove disruptive.

“I was worried about our team chemistry,” the coach said, “but I also trust the maturity of our players.”

Said Tar Heels forward Jawad Williams: “Rashad hit some big 3s for us, and he gives us another scoring [option] out there. The defense has to focus on Rashad when he’s on the floor, so that frees other people up. It freed me up.”

Roy gets first win

Williams earned his first ACC tournament victory since returning to North Carolina last season. Maryland beat the Tar Heels in the tournament opener last season. It also was the first tournament victory for all his players.

“It ought to be extremely important to them,” Williams said, “and I didn’t think it was early in the game, because we weren’t the aggressor; Clemson was. We were awful defensively at times. Our defense has slipped lately.”

New wave works

Trailing 71-58 with 7:53 remaining, North Carolina replaced all five players, with Jawad Williams the only starter among the newcomers. The four reserves didn’t stay long, but the Tar Heels finally started their winning move.

“I’d like to tell you I had some great plan when I made that big substitution,” Williams said, “but I was searching for one. Whatever we were doing wasn’t working.”

Envelope please

CBS broadcaster Billy Packer was honored with the Marvin “Skeeter” Francis Award by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association for coverage of the ACC.

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