ATLANTA – The first two matchups between Clemson and Virginia Tech were each decided by two points. So it should come as no surprise that the third game between the teams turned into a close slugfest as well. With the right to play Duke on the line, two late 3-pointers from Dorenzo Hudson and Erick Green helped the Hokies pull away to a 68-63 victory at Philips Arena.
Duke will face 10th-seeded Virginia Tech for the third time this season in Friday's ACC tournament quarterfinals, and Hokie head coach Seth Greenberg knows he will have his hands full with the Blue Devils.
“They are a special, special team led by a Hall of Fame coach,” Greenberg said. “They’ve got magnificent perimeter game. [Miles and Mason Plumlee] are hard to keep off the glass and so physical.”
He said he anticipates more playing time for Andre Dawkins in the absence of Ryan Kelly, who will miss the ACC tournament with a sprained right foot suffered in practice Tuesday. The Hokies will have to cope with a practice injury of their own, as center Victor Davila hurt his knee during a ball-screen drill prior to the tournament and will not play.
Despite Davila's absence Thursday, though, Virginia Tech managed to do something it has struggled to do all season—win a close game. Ten of Virginia Tech’s 16 losses have been decided by five points or less, and Clemson head coach Brad Brownell, who lost to Greenberg Thursday night, praised the Hokie coach for his perseverance.
“When you’re coaching teams that keep losing on last-second shots,” Brownell said, “it’s not easy to get your guys to come back to practice.”
But Greenberg has kept his players’ effort level high throughout the season, and he praised his team’s maturity as the season has progressed. He said his players frequently “coach themselves” during timeouts, and have developed their leadership capabilities.
“When your players start talking like coaches, that’s when you know they believe,” Greenberg said.
His squad will face a Duke team that has had issues with consistency throughout the season, and their length and athleticism on the perimeter could frustrate Duke’s long-range reliant offense. The Hokies have allowed opponents to shoot just 28.1 percent from beyond the arc this season, good for fifth in the nation. The starting backcourt—junior Erick Green and senior Dorenzo Hudson—has combined to average 26.1 points per game this season, and the duo scored 43 points between them against Clemson.
Duke’s offense—the most efficient in the ACC—may be too much for the Hokies, though, and with Davila sidelined, Virginia Tech will have to rely on 6-foot-8 Cadarian Raines as its only option defending Miles and Mason Plumlee on the interior. The Blue Devils will also have a distinct advantage in depth, as Greenberg used just seven players against Clemson.
But Greenberg said that Duke’s biggest asset may have nothing to do with skill or personnel.
“Duke is the standard in terms of playing hard in our league,” Greenberg said. “When you play Duke, you’ve got to understand that they’re going to draw a line in the sand each and every play. You’ve got to match their competitive spirit before you can even worry about playing basketball.”