Monday, January 23, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hudson doesn't start, but he certainly finishes

CHARLOTTESVILLE - We can talk about youth. We can talk about growing pains. We can talk about adjusting to new positions, learning curves, incremental progress - all buzzwords this year for the Virginia Tech basketball team.

But isn't it a lot more fun to talk about wins?

Sometimes, getting those requires a little mettle from the veterans.

As soothing as this 47-45 victory over No. 15 Virginia was for the Hokies, seeing who hit the most important shots was just as encouraging.

This team needs Dorenzo Hudson. Badly.

"Definitely, man," Tech point guard Erick Green said. "We're all glad to see 'Zo come back and be the Dorenzo Hudson we know he can be. He hit some tough shots, some key shots to get us that victory."

The fifth-year senior hit them with a level of assertiveness we haven't seen from him this season - at least not in crunch time. The biggest was his 3-pointer with 16.5 seconds to play, but his offensive impact began long before that.

The Hokies posted Hudson up three times with this game teetering, and he delivered when it mattered most.

Hudson actually missed the first shot he took during that stretch after backing down the smaller Sammy Zeglinski, but it was a back-iron jumper that looked good when he let it go. So good, in fact, that Tech went right back to it while trailing 41-39 with 2:32 remaining.

Hudson drew a blocking foul on Zeglinski - not a popular call with the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena, but one that got Tech a point closer.

Two possessions later, Hudson canned a short jump-hook over Malcolm Brogdon to give Tech a 44-41 lead.

"It feels real good," said Hudson, who entered the game hitting 40 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range.

"It takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I feel like I've tried to stay positive through the whole thing. I'm not making excuses for the way I've been playing; I've just got to stay with it."

Hudson slumped badly in December and was a combined 6-for-23 from the floor in Tech's first two ACC games. Although he exploded for a 16-point first half against North Carolina on Thursday, he went scoreless in the second half, struggling to maintain his hot shooting once the Tar Heels started getting back in transition.

Still, unlike the majority of the Hokies, Hudson has a track record of offensive success. Hudson averaged 15.2 points a game two years ago before missing most of last season with an injury.

"He can light it up," Green said. "Everyone on the team knows what he can do. †Everybody goes through a slump now and then. We're just glad he came back at the right time."

Hudson's improved play over the past two games has come with him beginning both nights on the bench. Tech coach Seth Greenberg said he could sense that Hudson was pressing in practice and games and decided to try using him in the "Energizer Bunny" role as a reserve.

"He internalizes so much," Greenberg said. "I know Dorenzo. You can see the look in his eye. You can see his body language. †You could see he was getting beaten down, because he invested a lot in it and he's worked really hard. I just said, 'Look, let's step back. Your minutes are not going to change. The way we use you is going to change.'"

Hudson played 27 minutes in this one - down slightly from his 29.8 average -- but hit 5 of 7 from the field for 12 points.

"When I'm on the bench, I'm trying to take advantage of it, trying to see what's going on, where the shots are going to come from," Hudson said. "I'm just trying to embrace my role right now."

Spoken like a veteran. One who's been sorely missed.

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