Virginia Tech 70, Clemson 59

Hokies have NCAA look

Two days cannot define a four-month season. But when Virginia Tech's Hokies reflect on their 2009-10 basketball journey, chances are they'll remember Thursday and Saturday.

In less than 48 hours, with an historic blizzard as backdrop, the Hokies won two grueling ACC contests that place them on the verge of returning to the NCAA tournament.

The back end of Tech's stirring double was a 70-59 conquest of Clemson late Saturday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies (18-4, 5-3) overcame rampant foul trouble and atrocious first-half shooting to reach the halfway mark of the conference schedule undefeated at home.


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"The most unique basketball game I've ever been a part of," coach Seth Greenberg said on his radio show. "Unique and satisfying, obviously."

Satisfying in large measure because it came less than two days after Thursday's 74-70 home victory over North Carolina.

Dictated by television, two-day turnarounds are unusual in the ACC. And with Clemson coming off a five-day break, Tech had every reason to feel slighted.

But this was more than a scheduling quirk. This was an opportunity, an opportunity for the Hokies to announce their aspirations and to become accustomed to the NCAA tournament routine.

For this is how it works come March. First-round winners have one day off to prepare for the second round. Regional semifinal survivors have one day to brace for the final.

And after Saturday, Tech has that NCAA tournament look.

Not to say the Hokies were seamless. For a half, in fact, they were inept.

Tech went the first 7:24 without a field goal and missed 22 of 26 first-half shots. That's 15.4 percent, the worst halftime accuracy in school history.

Yet thanks to defense and free throws, the Hokies went to the locker room with a 29-27 lead, leaving us in the television audience, not to mention Greenberg, amazed.

"I can't describe a game in which you shoot 15 percent in the first half and you're winning," he said. "I didn't know what to say to them. … But we found a way. This team is fascinating to me."

The most fascinating characters are Jeff Allen and Malcolm Delaney.

Since his second-half ejection Jan. 28 at Virginia, Allen has contributed some of his finest minutes. He had 19 points in a loss at Miami, 14 points and seven rebounds against North Carolina, and 13 points, six rebounds and four steals versus Clemson, the first time this season he's scored in double figures in three consecutive outings.

This against formidable big men such as Dwayne Collins, Ed Davis and Trevor Booker.

With Tech nursing a 47-41 cushion Saturday, Allen authored the day's signature sequence. He swiped the ball from Tigers forward David Potter, dribbled downcourt with his off hand (left) and made a right-handed layup. Moments later, he scored left-handed in the post over Booker to give the Hokies a 10-point bulge.

Only the most athletic forwards make such plays, and the 6-foot-7 Allen certainly qualifies. If he ever becomes consistent, Tech will be a tough postseason out.

As reliable as the seasons, Delaney is the antithesis of Allen. His effort always is complete, even when his jump shot is AWOL.

Saturday marked the third time in the last four games that Delaney, the ACC's leading scorer, was 0-for from 3-point range. But with clever pump fakes and slashing drives, Delaney got to the free-throw line 23 times, converting 20 en route to 30 points.

Does Delaney embellish contact from defenders with grimaces, yelps and limps? No question. It's called gamesmanship, finding a way.

The Hokies have found a way to put the program on the verge of its second NCAA tournament invite in the last 14 years. Tech and Duke are the only ACC teams with four losses overall, and the Hokies trail the first-place Blue Devils (19-4, 7-2) by one game in the loss column in the conference standings.

Moreover, Tech is 12-0 at home, a mojo that will serve the team well with impending visits from Virginia, Wake Forest, Maryland and North Carolina State. Four road tests also remain, and given the Hokies' grinding style, none of the eight games is likely to impress purists.

"I would not characterize anything today as good basketball," Greenberg said, "other than we won."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime

Next game

Next game

WHO: Virginia Tech (18-4, 5-3 ACC) at N.C. State (14-10, 2-7).

WHEN: 9 p.m. Wednesday.

TV: ESPNU.

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