January matched Virginia Tech basketball's worst month in Seth Greenberg's eight seasons as coach. Six defeats in seven games, including setbacks at ACC lightweights Wake Forest and Boston College.
February couldn't have started with a much more challenging test, and the exam Thursday was far more than the Hokies could handle.
Duke 75, Tech 60.
The game wasn't that close, and Greenberg knows it. Indeed, the perpetual optimism that has marked him this season vanished during his postgame presser.
"When (Duke) kind of bowed their neck," Greenberg said, "I thought we melted. …
"It disappoints me because, and I know this sounds stupid, but I think we're a good team. … and I didn't like how we dealt with the (game's) mini-setbacks. … That's not who we've been for eight years."
Greenberg's tenure at Tech has been marked by undeniable toughness, one NCAA tournament bid notwithstanding. And even in earlier defeats this year, the Hokies almost always were competitive.
But Thursday was the second consecutive game — Tech lost 73-69 at Maryland on Saturday — in which the Hokies never led. Moreover, they were never closer than 10 points in the second half.
The ACC's third-ranked scoring defense and No. 4 shooting defense, Tech (12-10, 1-6 ACC) was decidedly weak against seventh-ranked Duke (19-3, 6-1).
"They're not a great team, either," Greenberg said of the Devils. "They're a very, very good team."
Agreed. Duke has defeated Michigan State and Virginia, and did win the Maui Invitational, besting Michigan and Kansas in between tanning sessions on the beach. But with only one significant senior (Miles Plumlee), this isn't a vintage Mike Krzyzewski squad.
Tied at 21 with seven minutes remaining in the first half, Tech was playing well at both ends. That's when its defense went soft.
Duke scored on seven consecutive possessions as the Hokies did little to stop dribble penetration. Ryan Kelly and Quinn Cook found little resistance en route to the rim as a 13-2 run gave the Blue Devils command at 34-23.
Unlike recent games against Florida State and St. John's, Duke did not wilt in the second half. Instead, the Blue Devils extended to a 22-point lead and coasted.
"I thought the way we handled the second half was very mature," Krzyzewski said.
Duke committed a season-low seven turnovers and became only the second team to score at least 75 points against Tech (North Carolina totaled 82).
Freshman Austin Rivers showed why he was a must-have recruit, not only scoring a game-high 18 points but also orchestrating the offense with a game-best five assists that matched the Hokies' team total.
"You've got to give Rivers credit," Greenberg said. "He made four pretty deep threes. … We had not seen him shoot the ball like that (on tape)."
But Thursday was more about how the Hokies played. Erick Green and Victor Davila combined for 33 points and 14 rebounds — Davila scored a career-high 16 — but no one distinguished themselves on defense as Tech endured its seventh loss in the last eight games.
The Hokies' only similar month under Greenberg was a 1-6 January in 2004, his first year and the program's last in the Big East. But Tech was a mess back then, reeling from three consecutive losing seasons.
Today the Hokies' standards are higher, and a 1-7 stretch is far more alarming. Not cause for panic, mind you, or for each game to be a referendum on Greenberg's job security.
But clearly cause for a critical eye the remainder of the season.
With a Saturday afternoon home game against Clemson, the Hokies have little time to correct course. But they certainly need a collective infusion of toughness and some offense from Dorian Finney-Smith.
The freshman forward from Portsmouth was 0-for-4 from the floor and has missed a mind-bending 25 straight shots. Greenberg said he is personally retooling Finney-Smith's form and blames himself for not intervening earlier.
Instilling the perseverance needed to compete in the ACC may be more difficult.
Said Greenberg: "I don't know if we have that component … right now."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun