GREENSBORO, N.C. – As positive as Malcolm Delaney feels about what Virginia Tech has done to solidify a spot in the NCAA tournament, no amount of reassurance will make him feel certain about the Hokies' future.
Perhaps a second win against Duke in two weeks would've made Delaney less sleepless in Blacksburg on Saturday night, but the Blue Devils weren't about to comply in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament semifinals.
Duke, which entered the tournament seeded second, dispatched sixth seed Tech 77-63 to advance to Sunday's tournament championship game against top seed North Carolina. It'll be the first time since 2001 Duke and UNC will meet for the tournament title.
And so, the tense moments begin again for Tech (21-11).
While Duke and UNC (26-6) renew their rivalry for the 11th time in the ACC tournament championship, Delaney will join several nervous teammates in front of televisions awaiting word of their postseason fate. After being left at the altar by the NCAA tournament selection committee in each of the last three seasons, Delaney has little faith.
"I just don't want to get my hopes up," said Delaney, who scored 19 points on 4 for 14 shooting from the floor against Duke. "What we did, what we accomplished, everything we did – 21 wins, nine in the league, beating the No. 1 team in the country, beating Florida State twice, a team that's great with one of the top defenses in the league, it's good. Beating Penn State, a team that just beat Wisconsin. It just speaks for itself.
"I think (Tech is in). I thought so last year, too, but I'm just going to wait and see what happens."
Maybe in an attempt to balance the skepticism of his players, Tech coach Seth Greenberg went the other direction. While Delaney shook his head in the negative in the postgame press conference after the Duke loss when asked if he felt better about Tech's chances of making the NCAA tournament, Greenberg offered a more positive outlook – but only slightly.
"I'm going to think the best, quite honestly," said Greenberg, whose team entered Saturday 61st in Rating Percentage Index projections provided by collegerpi.com and is now 2-5 against RPI top 50 opponents. "I don't know about sleep. You might sleep, but I'm not going to sleep. I'm going to try to (sleep). I hang around with (Tech assistant) coach (Dennis) Wolff, and he is 'Mr. Positive' these days, so he's going to empower me to think very positively."
While Duke (29-4) may have delivered a blow to Tech's confidence, it seems the Hokies have done enough to ensure a spot in the NCAA tournament simply by reaching the ACC tournament semifinals. Getting a third win in less than 48 hours with just seven scholarship players available was too much to ask of Tech, which upset No. 1 Duke 64-60 on Feb. 26 in Blacksburg in a game that provided a huge boost for the Hokies' NCAA tournament possibilities.
"To be honest, I don't know what's going to happen," said Tech guard Erick Green, who had 17 points. "We could go to the NIT, or we could go to the NCAA tournament. I really have no comment about that. We'll see what happens on Sunday."
Despite suffering a toe injury on his left foot Friday that kept him out for the last six minutes and 48 minutes against Maryland in the tournament quarterfinals, Nolan Smith returned against Tech and displayed no lingering effects from the injury.
After missing his first two field goal attempts and two free throws, he went to have 27 points and six assists while shooting 8 for 16 from the floor and 9 for 13 from the free throw line. Duke shot 47 percent from the floor, while Tech made 37 percent of its shots, including 13 percent (2 for 16) from 3-point range.
Tech took a 10-8 lead with 15:06 remaining on a short jumper by Victor Davila, but it was the last lead the Hokies would have the entire game. An 11-2 run ignited by seven points from Smith put Duke ahead 29-18 with 4:54 left. The Blue Devils' lead never fell under six points in the final 25 minutes.
Tech forward Jeff Allen posted his worst numbers of the season, finishing with two points on 1 for 7 shooting and seven rebounds while committing four turnovers before fouling out with 6:28 left. His frustrations boiled over when he was called for a technical foul with 13:43 remaining for swinging an elbow at Duke's Kyle Singler, who had 13 points, after Singler fouled him.
In the locker room after the loss, most of Tech's players echoed the sentiments of Delaney and Green. Many of them have been down this road too many times to see the glass as half-full.
"I'm not going to make a big deal out of it," said Tech forward Terrell Bell, who had six points. "None of us are on the committee, so we just have to see what the verdict is. I do feel confident going into Selection Sunday."