Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Uh ... never doubted Allen

BLACKSBURG -- OK, dear readers. Listen up and listen good. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times.

Virginia Tech post player Jeff Allen is going to be fine! No worries at all! You've just got to be patient with the young man. He's a stud. He always comes around eventually.

Just look at his performance in Saturday's 79-71 win over Boston College. A career-high 30 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, three steals and two assists. It's exactly the kind of game I've been promising you he would have. I just wish some of you, in the future, would take the kind of evenhanded, knowledgeable approach that I have with this issue.

Now, moving on ...

Oh, wait. You mean that column I wrote last week? The alarmist, head-for-the-hills piece about Allen not being the same this year? The thing about his offseason weight loss possibly being a detriment? The thing about Tech's Big 3 really only being a Big 2?


Yeah, maybe I did write that.

And wow, was I wrong.

This is not a new phenomenon, this whole me-being-wrong thing, but normally it takes more than a week for me to flip like Carl Edwards in Victory Lane.

But I do it today because Allen left me no choice. Coach Seth Greenberg called him "magnificent" against BC, but Allen was more than that. He was unstoppable.

Starting with a reverse layup at the 9:10 mark of the second half, Allen showed off his complete arsenal. He muscled inside for two, scored on an offensive put-back, went hard to the basket for a one-handed dunk, even made a few free throws when he had to.

On one play, he dribbled from the 3-point line into the paint, drew defensive pressure and dumped the ball to teammate Lewis Witcher for an easy dunk.

Welcome back, Big 3.

"As long as we gave him the ball, he made things happen," Tech point guard Hank Thorns said. "I think he scored every time he touched it, basically."

Close to it. Allen made 11 of 16 shots Saturday, a complete turnaround from his 0-for-7 performance against Virginia last week that prompted my premature diagnosis.

Allen and his teammates credited a mismatch in the post against BC's Josh Southern for the increased production, but there was also a noticeable difference in assertiveness. Allen didn't hesitate this time. He attacked the glass hard and even attempted a 3-pointer early in the game.

He swished that, too.

"Whenever Jeff comes to work, he's a totally different player than if he's being lazy," Tech guard Malcolm Delaney said. "He knows that. We've been staying on him lately about how we need him to play good, because last year, when we did good in the ACC, Jeff was killing everybody."

He wasn't early this year. And the weight loss -- the 6-foot-8 Allen dropped 18 pounds in the offseason and 12 more since practices began in October -- seemed the only real difference.

"I guess he can play at the lighter weight, as opposed to previously advertised," Greenberg said, thankfully not mentioning the names of the advertisers. "I said last week that Jeff would be fine, that he was the least of my worries. I meant that. He's done it. Whether he's at 230 or at 260, he's done it."

Allen admitted that he doubted himself a little during his slump. He wasn't too self-analytical other than that in Saturday's postgame interview, crediting his turnaround to more effort and greater execution in finishing shots.

A few minutes into the interview, I cleared my throat and asked Allen what I really wanted to know.

"Do you read the local newspaper?" I asked.


"Do you read the local newspaper?"

"Uh..." Allen said, breaking into a grin. "Not really."

That might have been a good time to tell him what I'm now telling you now, dear readers. I never doubted the guy for a second.

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