Thursday, February 03, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies' Allen good till the final buzzer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Some Jeff Allen moments are scintillating.

Like that move he made early in the game Wednesday, where he started from outside the 3-point line, darted through the lane and scooped the ball off the glass and in like a guard.

Or that time he took off from the foul line, made a defender look silly with a few small wiggles and slammed it home with the right hand.

Or that time he did the grunt work, missing a shot from close range, getting the rebound and putting it back up for two.

But the most encouraging Jeff Allen moment Wednesday came with 11 seconds left in the game. N.C. State's Scott Wood fired up an errant 3-pointer -- and there was the big man, pulling in the rebound to close out Virginia Tech's 77-69 road win.

Imagine that: Jeff Allen, still in the game at the end.

Watching Allen play these days is no longer torture. It's a treat. One of the most productive -- and perplexing -- players in Tech history truly seems to get it now, that reaching in on defense isn't worth the risk, that arguing calls gets him nowhere but onto the officials' bad side.

Most of all, he understands that his teammates need him to be on the floor.

Now that he's doing that, you could make a good case that the senior forward is playing the best basketball of his career.

"I believe so," Allen said. "You think so?" I do. But more importantly, his teammates do.

"I mean, he's dominating," Tech senior guard Malcolm Delaney said. "He's playing down low, attacking people off the dribble and then dominating on the glass. His freshman year, when Jeff started dominating on the glass, this is how he was playing. He's starting to play even better now because he's got a more versatile game. He's definitely playing the best he ever played."

Allen finished with his third straight double-double -- 15 points and 11 rebounds. That included 10 points and seven boards in the first half, as the Hokies bolted to a 13-point lead.

That's really when this game was won. It was preserved in the second half thanks to a lot of guys, Allen included. After the Wolfpack cut the lead to 65-59 with a little more than 3 minutes left, Allen hit a jump hook to push the advantage back to eight. State couldn't get closer than six the rest of the way.

Allen -- whose theme song for four years has been a referee's whistle -- didn't pick up his first foul until almost 5 minutes were gone in the second half. And that came on an assertive move on the offensive end, not some quixotic steal attempt 25 feet from the basket.

"That's the main thing -- stop reaching," Allen said. "If you like to stay in the game instead of sitting on the bench, you're going to make the adjustment. I made the adjustment."

What took him so long to figure that out? Well, for one thing, reality. There aren't a lot of guys behind him if he has to go out.

"I had a lot of people talk to me over time [about the value of staying out of foul trouble], but I guess I had to see it to believe it," Allen said. "And with this team that we have now, I see it."

The biggest difference, coach Seth Greenberg said, is that Allen is "not letting the static get in the way of being productive."

That's a good way of putting it. Too many times in the past, Allen has seemed easily distracted. Yet still his talent has pushed him over 1,500 career points and into fifth place on the Tech career lists for rebounds (982) and blocks (146) and steals (214).

Just a few more weeks to see how much this "new" Allen can pad those totals.

"It's my senior year," Allen said.

"It's my last go round. I won't be playing anymore N.C. States and North Carolinas after this."

Probably lucky for them.

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