Fifth Down Basketball Special: Hokies dismantle yet another cupcake

Since Seth Greenberg arrived as head coach, Virginia Tech has played 174 games. In the first 173, they had never allowed 34 points or fewer.

On Tuesday night, the Hokies held the UMBC Retrievers to that very point total, while scoring 71 points of their own, thanks to what Greenberg called their most consistent defensive performance of the season.

On its first two possessions Tuesday night, the Retrievers (1-10) failed to attempt a shot, committing a shot clock violation both times.

Bullets have left guns in a longer time than it took to know who would win this game.

Malcolm Delaney hit four consecutive threes, keying a 22-2 run to open the game for the Hokies (10-1). He finished with 17 points.

After that run, UMBC never came within 18 points the rest of the game.

Following Sunday night’s win against Charleson Southern, Greenberg used a phrase with his team: “two feet in,” to describe the mentality they needed to have for Tuesday’s game.

“The whole concept of ‘two feet in’ is that this is the last game before break, and we have to be totally committed to staying in the present. If you have both feet in…you’re going to dominate the game. Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Greenberg said.

The advice was well taken by his team, which never seemed to lack intensity at any point in the game.

The win continues a run for the Hokies against extraordinarily weak opponents. Entering tonight, the combined record of their first 11 foes was 52-62. Of those 11 teams, seven currently have a losing record.

The competition will stiffen mightily in the coming weeks. On Jan. 2, the Hokies travel to Cancun, Mexico to face Seton Hall, currently 9-1 on the season. Eight days later, conference play begins on the road against North Carolina.

While comfy 30-point wins are nice, it won’t be long before those games will be distant memories for the Hokies.

“I don’t want to take anything away from UMBC…but they aren’t Carolina, and they aren’t Duke,” Greenberg said.

Good to know he’s on the same page with that thinking, because the challenges that lie ahead are far more imposing than those in the past.

Still, it helps to have a player of Delaney’s caliber leading the way, and the biggest message the Hokies’ star player is sending to his team: have fun.

“I watch a lot of NBA games, and I pay a lot of attention to the Cleveland Cavaliers. We don’t take our fun to that high of a level, but basketball should be fun for us,” Delaney said.

It’s highly unlikely Greenberg is going to allow his team to become a human bowling alley during pregame introductions a la Cleveland, but he has to agree with Delaney’s sentiment.

Greenberg used Tuesday’s game to give valuable minutes to his four freshmen. Cadarian Raines, Manny Atkins, Ben Boggs, and Erick Green each played at least 15 minutes in the win.

The most valuable of those minutes were Green’s, whose development as a viable option a point guard will be crucial in determining the eventual success of this team.

“Erick’s getting better,” Greenberg said, “the best thing going for him right now is he gets to go up against (Delaney) every day in practice.”

Green’s toughness and aggressiveness have been inexplicably pegged as his biggest obstacles to overcome at this point. Nearly 10 minutes of his playing time tonight came alongside two, if not all three of his freshmen teammates. He finished with 10 points, three assists and only one turnover.

“I just need to be more mature, and step up when Malcolm is out of the game. That’s my role,” Green said.

Maturation need be hurried. After all,  that Carolina game isn’t getting any farther away.


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