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The Win and Wake

Every once in a while, we are treated to a reward for all of the time we spend engrossed in this general silliness that is college sports rather than spending the time on something useful. Saturday afternoon was one of those times.

It won’t be recognized in the overall scheme of things as ranking up there in Tech basketball history with the 1973 team that was ‘too short, too white and too Virginian’ winning the NIT championship. It won’t be remembered like the huge win over Louisville in the Metro tournament semifinals that propelled Tech to a conference championship its first year in the league. It didn’t garner the national attention as did Tech wins over the years such as #1 Memphis back in the Metro days or last year’s Duke one. Few have been more satisfying, however.

It was a battered and bruised Tech team that limped into the Joel Center Saturday; the illnesses and injuries have been well-documented. Throw in Deron Washington ’s one-game suspension and Seth faced the Deacons with only six scholarship players and basically no frontcourt. Having no inside players is generally considered not the optimum conditions for facing Wake’s all-ACC center Eric Williams.

In what was a remarkable example of a team drawing strength from adversity, Tech overcame everything and rallied in the Second Half from twelve down to knock off Wake Forest. I’m sure few saw it coming, Tech or Wake fans.

Jamon Gordon is the heart and soul of this Tech team. That was clearly on display Saturday when he placed the team on his back, willing the Hokies to victory while literally ripping the ball from Wake guards and taking rebounds away from Williams. It was an inspirational performance that hopefully will rally this team when they get back to what passes for full strength this year and attempt to salvage something from what has been a trying and difficult season.

I suspect Ship Prosser did not tell his team in the locker room prior to the game, “Guys, we had better watch out for the Vassallo kid.” Good shooting has not been a hallmark of this year’s Tech team, but they sure got it Saturday from the freshman AD Vasallo. A guy who lights it up in practice but rarely gets into games due to some serious defensive liabilities, AD was thrust onto the floor out of necessity against Wake and responded in a big way. He certainly earned more playing time; whether it comes when Collins and Washington return will depend on his defense.

Tech opened in a box and one defense against Wake, the one on Eric Williams. Tech’s strong point is its tough, tenacious man-to-man defense. Like most teams that base their defensive game on the man-to-man, Tech does not zone particularly well. Seth Greenberg no doubt considered it necessary in order to conserve the energy of his depleted team. The ‘box’ of the box and one worked fairly well, as Williams was held to twelve points. That had more to do with the inability of Wake’s guards to get the ball to their big guy whom Tech walk-on Chris Tucker could not handle.

What the zone also did was allow Wake’s Trent Strickland and Michael Drum to rain threes over it. Drum was on the court due to the absence of all-ACC guard Justin ‘Chewing Gum’ Gray, who became sick shortly before the game. Wake rode their shooting to a twelve-point lead in the Second Half. It was then that Seth called off the box and one, no doubt figuring that if Tech was going down yet again, they may as well do it with guns blazing.

After the switch back to a man defense, the Tech guards, specifically Gordon, took over the game. They overpowered what passed for Wake’s backcourt. The Wehrmacht found more resistance from the Polish Army. Tech quickly caught up, took the lead and won by hitting some critical free throws down the stretch, what had been a previous glaring shortcoming. It was a very nice win, most deserving for a bunch of guys who have faced so much adversity this year and continued fighting hard through it all.

Wake had much to do with Tech’s win. They were playing without Gray, who seems to be the only decent guard in the program. With Gray sick to his stomach, treating the Wake locker room like volcanoes treat adjacent villages, the best Skip Prosser could trot out was some cement-legged suburban driveway shooter who had transferred in from Presbyterian, of all places. The D-II Blue Hose are not generally regarded as a supplier of quality ACC players.

The problems experienced this year by Wake Forest have been largely attributed to the unexpected early departure of point guard Chris Paul to the NBA. Prosser had no one waiting in the wings to take over. It turns out that he had nobody behind Gray, either. Considering that Gray, the only quality guard in the program, is a senior, as are most of the Deacons gathering the playing time, that might not bode well for the immediate future for the Deacons.

Wake joined Tech Saturday in the ACC cellar. The Deacons have managed the trick with a talent level generally considered higher than Tech’s and without the physical problems or personal tragedies that have ruined the season for the Hokies. The Deacs are doing it entirely on merit. Seth next year should have back his entire team, virtually all of the meaningful minutes, anyway. He will have three four-year senior starters, what there is of this year’s bench, the medical red-shirts and the infusion of some fairly well-regarded recruits. Tech looks to be a very competitive team next year. Wake, on the other hand, is a senior-dominated team. Scratch their bench and there ain’t much quality to put on the floor. This is a program that will have problems even if Skip Prosser is back.

Which brings to mind the ‘Prosser Question.’ The Wake coach has been looking to leave ever since he arrived on Deacon Boulevard . Like most Wake coaches before him, he has found that competing in the ACC in the same state as two of basketball’s truly elite programs is a tough chore. You cannot shake the recruiting tree and then collect several Tim Duncans and Chris Pauls as can the guys one metro area to the east. Things are not helped by a fan base that sees no reason whatsoever that they can’t compete on the same level as that other small private ACC school over in Durham. Prosser has been contemplating the Dave Odom ‘Just Throw in the Towel and Leave’ Solution for a while.

Prosser was going to Pitt back in 03. He backed out when he was informed by Wake AD Ron Wellman that some changes were about to hit the Big East. It was a bit of info that made for a very lively few months back in 03, setting in motion a chain of events that directly led to Wake losing to Tech last Saturday. I bet Skip didn’t have that in mind.

It has been widely reported that Cincinnati has their eye on Prosser to lead them out of the mess created by Bob Huggins. Skip has done nothing to discourage the speculation, pointedly declining whenever asked to affirm his commitment and devotion to Wake. After Saturday, one does wonder whether the Bearcats still want him or whether the Wake fans would mind him leaving.

The Wake team appears to be acting as if their coach is already gone. They are now 1-6 in ACC play, their last two losses home ones to Florida State and Tech, two games that prior to the season could reasonably be counted as wins. They now head on the road to Miami and Hooville, where their backcourt problems will be on display against a couple of very good ones.

Before checking out for Cincy, Prosser had better decide to do a much better job of motivating the team at the place that is still paying his salary, at least for a while longer. The loss to the Tech team Seth cobbled together last weekend was a very bad one.

Tech won because they out-hustled and out-toughed the Deacons. Seth preaches constantly about the mental toughness necessary to compete in the ACC and for the most part he gets it. Faced with serious adversity last Saturday, the Tech team was tough enough to go to another level and physically whip the Deacs, seizing the game by the throat. The Wake team faced a little adversity and crumbled like feta cheese.

This was most apparent in the play of Eric Williams. This is a 6’9” guy considered, along with Duke’s Shelden Williams, to be the best big men in the ACC. He should have dominated in the paint at both ends against a Tech team with no inside players whatsoever. He did not.

Williams has had trouble getting his shots this year, mostly due to the inability of Wake’s lousy guards to get him the ball. It is not the best of seasons for a guy harboring NBA aspirations. It gets even worse when his offensive problems cause him to pout on the defensive end.

Even with Collins and Washington, Tech out-rebounds nobody. They did against the Deacons, however, even though Wake had on the floor the only big man. Williams had only five rebounds; two guys on his own team had eight. Jamon Gordon had fourteen, many of them offensive ones as Gordon hustled to the ball while Williams stood and watched. Seth Greenberg got maximum effort and then some from his ravaged team. Skip Prosser did not, even from his erstwhile superstar. Gee, I wonder what they think in Cincy of a guy whose current team is quitting on him?

Seth Greenberg certainly does not have that problem. His guys have certainly been given enough reasons to simply pack in the season. They choose not to. Every time they get hit with a new blow to the body, they respond and fight even harder. Unlike at least one of the more famous athletes formerly associated with Virginia Tech, these guys have a lot of character. It was rewarded last Saturday with a win. This is a team whose grit and determination is admirable. They deserved to win and Saturday they did. In the process, they treated Tech fans to quite a show.

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