|Virginia Tech 93, Duquesne 79
Saturday, February 28th, 1998
|This game was everything that the GW game was not. And I don't just mean that
the Hokies won. The style of this game was completely different.
First of all, the officiating was light years better than it was on Wednesday against GW, although there were rough spots here and there. If I were a Duquesne fan, I would have been upset a few times, and there were a few questionable calls against the Hokies, as well, but overall, the game was well-officiated.
More so than that, this was basketball, the way it is meant to be played. If you've never seen Duquesne play, they like to push the ball up and down the court. They also like to press full-court on defense, so their overall style leads to an up-tempo game that creates a lot of scoring opportunities and is fun to watch (I can't believe I took Mrs. HokieCentral to the GW game - I should have taken her to this one. Now I'll never get her back in Cassell!).
With the more free-wheeling style, this particular game became a reminder that the Hokies have some pretty decent talent and can win games that don't end up as shoving matches. The Dukes started out somewhat cold, and the press they threw on the Hokies played right into Tech's hands. Throughout the game, Grindstaff and Dunlop broke the press quickly and easily, and they either found Eddie Lucas open on the wing or drove to the bucket and dished off for dunks.
I was surprised to see Duquesne stick with the press for as long as they did. Tech beat it easily and canned their first five three-pointers en route to leads of 14-2 and 27-14. At half time, the Hokies had blistered the nets for 50% shooting and were holding a 41-22 lead. The game was effectively over at that point, because I couldn't see where Duquesne was suddenly going to come up with the talent to erase a 19-point deficit.
In that first half, Tech held top-scoring guard Mike James of Duquesne to exactly zero points. James is one of a just a few talented players on the Duquesne team, and when you shut him down, they're pretty much out of luck. I think most of the first half defensive effort on James was provided by Andre Ray and Jenis Grindstaff (by the way, the battle between Grindstaff and James was a good one, at least for Hokie fans. James, a senior, had trouble guarding Grindstaff, a freshman. Jenis finished with 16 points on 5-11 shooting, 9 assists, and 4 steals).
Oddly enough, the Hokies first half 19-point edge came without much contribution from Rolan Roberts or Russ Wheeler. The key was the guard play, but more importantly, the play of exiting senior Shawn Browne. Browne, who is reed-thin and not very strong, has been a fish out of water since Tech entered the physical Atlantic 10 conference, and his career has suffered for it.
But today, with players running up and down the floor in an open-court game, Browne flourished. He scored a career high 18 points and snared 7 rebounds in a whopping 32 minutes. Browne was 6-9 from the field and a surprising 6-7 from the free throw line. On Senior Day, on a day that he was being honored, "Smoke" had his best day. He even got a couple of dunks off of great feeds by Grindstaff, which made up for a few times this year when Browne has been tentative around the basket.
Tech's other senior, Myron Guillory, didn't do too badly either, scoring 13 points and going 2-3 from three point range.
Duquesne fought back to close the gap to 11 points a couple of times in the second half, but they could never get over the hump. The second half featured Rolan Roberts, who thunderdunked a couple of follow-ups, and more passing artistry from Grindstaff and Dunlop. At one point, the wind was taken out of the Dukes after James picked Grindstaff clean in the open court, took the ball in for a dunk .... and swung from the rim a little too long. The ref slapped him with a technical foul for his efforts, Guillory canned the free throws, and life went on to the Hokies' advantage.
As the clock wound down below three minutes, the "double-cheeseburger watch" started. At the three-minute mark, the Hokies were about ten points away from the coveted 91-point mark, which earns ticket-holding Tech fans a free double-cheeseburger at local McDonald's restaurants.
Bobby Hussey was well aware of this, partly because he loves the Tech fans, and partly because the student section was cheering "DOUBLE-CHEESE! DOUBLE-CHEESE!" over and over. So Coach Hussey instructed his team to get the needed points.
When 91 was finally reached, it couldn't have come in sweeter fashion. Hussey put little-used (but fan favorite) David Whaley in the game with about two minutes to go, and the Hokies started looking for the open basket for him. Whaley cherry-picked like a playground veteran, and every time the Dukes scored or missed a shot, Tech would heave the ball down the floor for Whaley. The first time, it went out of bounds harmlessly, but the second time, Whaley retrieved it and was fouled as he made a tough layup. With the crowd deathly quiet and the Hokies sitting at 90 points, Whaley calmly rattled the free throw in. The crowd went bananas.
The game was finished in fine fashion when Jermaine Kilgore again found Whaley wide open with a long inbounds pass, and David threw down the nasty funk with just under three seconds to go. My only regret about the last couple of minutes is that walk-on Sean Floyd, who got into the game, once again didn't get a shot attempt. I vote that if and when the Hokies bow out of the A-10 tournament next week, that Hussey puts in Floyd and gets a bucket for him.
With this win, the Hokies saved themselves from an almost sure-fire first-round A-10 tournament exit. Had they lost, the Hokies would have finished last in the A-10 West and would have gone up against UMass or Temple in the first round. Both teams present huge matchup problems for the Hokies. Instead, the Hokies finish tied for fourth with Duquesne and La Salle and will go up against St. Bonaventure, whom Tech has already defeated this season, on Wednesday night. I like our chances better against the Bonnies than I do against Temple or UMass, but I'm smart enough to know that any team will give these Hokies trouble.
Sign that kid up! Congratulations to HokieCentral member Howie Long, who lit the crowd up during half time when he made a half-court shot and won two round-trip airline tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. I went down into the tunnel to meet Howie and congratulate him, and when I found him, Howie pulled up his rugby shirt to reveal the secret behind his half-court swish - he was wearing his HokieCentral T-shirt!
Notable Stats: Shawn Browne's 18 points and 7 rebounds led the Hokies in both categories ... Rolan had 16 points in only 21 minutes ... Tech had 19 assists and only 12 turnovers ... Duke guard James came back from his scoreless first half to finish with 16 points ... Duquesne's Kevin Price shot a phenomenal 8-10 for the game and finished with 17 points ... the fouls were nearly even - 22 for Duquesne, 21 for Tech ...bad news for the 11-18 Dukes: top players James, Price, and Nick Bosnic are all seniors. Look for the rebuilding Dukes to really stink up the A-10 next year ... Tech's victory, their 10th on the season, saves the Hokies from perhaps being the first Tech team since 1954-55 to fail to win 10 games.
Elsewhere in the State: Congratulations to Radford University, who made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever on Kevin Robinson's last second shot in the Big South Championship game on ESPN. The Highlanders have won something like twelve straight games now, and hey! This means that the Hokies beat an NCAA team this year!
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