Hardy Hokies knock out Tigers at ACC tourney

ATLANTA — Few observers would have been all that surprised had Virginia Tech’s basketball team simply wilted at any point in the past six weeks.

The Hokies essentially wrote the book this season on how to lose close games. Fluke plays, bad plays and just not having enough reared their ugly heads too often. Yet, somehow coach Seth Greenberg kept his team’s will and desire charging like a team headed to the big party in the postseason.

Virginia Tech isn’t going to the NCAA tournament unless it pulls off the mother of all stunners here at the 59th ACC tournament at Philips Arena, but they are playing one more game after dispatching eighth-seeded Clemson 68-63 on Thursday night.

It wasn’t a pretty win by any means. The ninth-seeded Hokies had some wretched possessions, as they usually do, and were mediocre defensively in the first half.

But Tech is a resilient bunch; a really resilient bunch. Maybe the Hokies are the most resilient team in the ACC. As they say, the proof is darn sure in the pudding.

They lost eight regular-season ACC games by four points or less, and another defeat came in overtime, yet they haven’t veered off track like so many teams would have gone.

“Coach always keeps us positive making sure we keep the next play in our heads and that we never look back,” forward Cadarian Raines said.

Robert Brown agreed, and given that he’s just a freshman, he’s one of the Hokies who needed to feed off of the coach’s encouragement.

“Coach Greenberg has been patient with us every day in practice, all of the meetings and just telling us that we need to make more plays,” Brown said. “He says we make good plays or we wouldn’t have been in all of those games, but we just need to make more and our record would be a whole lot different.”

Tech (16-16), which went 4-12 in ACC play in the regular season, continues to stride forward, and on this night the Hokies did so with just seven available scholarship players.

Brown played 30 minutes off the bench and C.J. Barksdale was in for 11 minutes. But the Hokies amped up their defense after trailing by five at halftime, thanks to Clemson making 5 of 9 3-point attempts in the opening 20 minutes.

This required digging down and relying on the basic principles of man-to-man defense. It worked, as Clemson converted just 3 of 13 from beyond the arc after the intermission, including missing key looks in the final 10 minutes.

“I thought we guarded the ball a lot better in the second half so we didn’t have to over help and we could stay home and get the shooters,” Greenberg said.

Not bad considering there was so little relief from the bench.

Now the Hokies turn their attention to Duke, the ACC’s No. 2 seed. But the Blue Devils are coming off a blowout loss at home to North Carolina that was preceded by unimpressive wins at Wake Forest and at home over the Hokies.

That game went to overtime, which should give Greenberg’s boys some confidence heading into the quarterfinal matchup.

“The last time we played them, we played them pretty tough,” Raines said. “(Friday), we have to play them tougher.”

They must do so with just seven players. But considering what this team has been through, what the heck. Why not go at it with the fabled Blue Devils. Really, Tech has nothing to lose.