Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Gridders should inspire Hokies

BLACKSBURG -- Fitting, perhaps, that so many of Virginia Tech's football coaches showed up here Wednesday. Frank Beamer, Bryan Stinespring, Jim Cavanaugh -- they all took a peek at this hoops game between the Hokies and No. 22 Purdue.

They might have had flashbacks to September and their own disappointing start.

Seth Greenberg can only hope his team makes a similar recovery.

It's early -- very early -- but there's no other way to characterize Tech's basketball fortunes at this point: A 4-3 record is a letdown. Wednesday's game, hard-fought and tight throughout, ended with Purdue celebrating a 58-55 overtime time victory and the Hokies' deflated leader being helped to his feet by teammates.

"Probably the most frustrated I've been since I've been here," Malcolm Delaney said. And that's a major statement for a senior who's seen all the highs and lows of the ACC and felt the sting of just missing the NCAA tournament.

"It hurts right now," sophomore guard Erick Green said. "We look back and feel like we should have won some of these games." For inspiration, though, the Hokies need only to glance at their football counterparts. Tech's two highest-profile athletic teams have shared a lot of similarities over the past few years. Both have won a lot of games with defense. Both are physical and scrappy.

And both entered this school year with ranked, veteran teams loaded with high expectations.

The football team quickly learned that experience and talent don't win games on their own. There still needs to be fluidity and trust and execution. Once they gained those things, they began to win and haven't stopped since.

Now it's the basketball team's turn to hit the reset button and remember what it's done in the past to prevail. The Hokies are never going to light up the scoreboard like Duke, but they can win when they rebound, defend and take smart shots.

"We hit free throws, we win this game by eight," Tech forward Jeff Allen said. "That was a big thing in the loss tonight."

Maybe not as big as he thought -- the Hokies missed only six of their 21 shots from the stripe -- but you get his point. The Hokies, as usual, are a team with little margin for error, a team that must excel in performing the little tasks that add up.

"We've just got to find the right formula," Allen said.

The right formula certainly does not include 2-for-18 shooting nights from Delaney, who saw everything from layups to 3-pointers draw iron. It doesn't include Dorenzo Hudson scoring just five points, as he did Wednesday.

And it doesn't include knocking potential rebounds out of bounds, lobbing entry passes to the other team or tossing up wild ones at the end of the shot clock -- all sins committed in the final three minutes of overtime against Purdue.

"We make three free throws or I make two layups, game over," Delaney said. "We get two rebounds, game over. It's small things we've got to work on closing out games."

The Hokies have hope today for the same reason that they have so much disappointment. They're experienced. They're bonded through the battles they've fought together. And they know they can be better than what they've shown thus far.

"It's a marathon," Allen said. "You lose a couple games early, you can still make up for them later. We've still got confidence we can make the tournament. There's still a lot of games left to be played."

Just ask the football team.

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