Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tech silences Hurricanes with 1st half of highlights

BLACKSBURG -- So now we've seen it -- the perfect flurry, the lilt of excellence, the very best this Virginia Tech men's basketball team can play.

The Hokies will not be any better than they were in the first half of their 81-66 victory over No. 23 Miami on Wednesday. It's not possible.

And when they throw up their next stinker -- it'll happen at some point -- they now have the tape they can turn to. It's like when VMI won at Kentucky last year. The victory itself was enormous, but the lesson it taught the players was even bigger: Yes, they can be good.

Very good.

So if he needs to sometime later this season, coach Seth Greenberg can get them in a meeting room, turn out the lights, show them this film and remind them of their ceiling.

See that help defense, J.T.?

See that confident 3-point stroke, Terrell?

See that heads-up pass, Jeff?

See that soft baby hook, Victor?

It's all there. And the best part is, there's a highlight for just about everybody who played in those first 20 minutes. Starting with Dorenzo Hudson's 3-pointer to open the game -- made possible by several crisp passes -- the Hokies quickly got one basket from each of their five starters.

Defensively, they forced turnovers on three of Miami's first five possessions.

The fast start snowballed into Hokie bliss. The lead grew to 15, then 20, then 30. Miami coach Frank Haith did not call a timeout during any of this. He must have been just as stunned as the rest of us.

The Hurricanes, who lead the conference in 3-point shooting, didn't reach double figures in scoring until 5:05 remained in the first half.

Against the ACC's top scoring defense, the Hokies built a 35-point lead before heading to the locker room up 50-23.


"It was amazing," junior forward Terrell Bell said. "I've never been in an ACC game where we were up that much."

None of them had. It hadn't happened. Previously, the biggest halftime lead for Tech in an ACC game had been 21 points against Wake Forest in 2008.

This made that one look like a see-saw affair.

"It proves a point," guard Malcolm Delaney said. "Shows what type of team we have."

Delaney, who had 28 points and nine assists despite a sore ankle, has been telling us all along that this team was much better than last year's. But how would we know? The Hokies were 12-2 coming into this one, but what can we learn from wins over the likes of Longwood, UMBC and Brown?

The Hokies looked strong for a half against North Carolina on Sunday before fizzling. The pressure to beat the Hurricanes became intense, given the challenge of traveling to Florida State this weekend and staring at the possibility of an 0-3 start in the league.

"It was so important to win this game so we have no self-doubt," Greenberg said. "We are a good team."

Greenberg says it all starts with defense. And much like their football team, the Hokie basketball players feed off getting stops and monopolizing momentum. But it helps to make a few shots, too, and almost everybody contributed to that effort.

Bell was the most pleasant surprise. A career 20.5 percent 3-point shooter, he drilled all three of his long-range attempts in the first half. These weren't bank jobs either. They were smooth, confident, accurate flicks of the wrists, a sensation he hadn't felt in years.

"High school, I think," Bell said with a smile. "It's been a while."

Is it possible to play any better than they did in that half?

"Oh, we can always play better," Bell said.

No need. And not likely.

But if somehow that happens, pity the opponent.

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