Hokies help ACC with win over Iowa in ACC-Big Ten Challenge
By Jimmy Robertson
November 29, 2006 BLACKSBURG - Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg made a couple of lineup changes and got his team back to playing defense the way he wants, and the end result was the Hokies contributed a win to the ACC's cause in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, downing the Iowa Hawkeyes 69-65 on Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum. With the win, Tech improved to 4-2 overall on the season. The Hawkeyes, last year's Big Ten tournament champion, fell to 2-4 and lost for the fourth straight time. "It was good to represent the league in a positive way and it was good to show a good atmosphere here at Cassell," Greenberg said of the win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. "I think it's important that people see us as a contributor to the conference, a team that has an ACC atmosphere. Obviously, this event is a big event because it does create a public opinion on where the league stands. So I'm excited about our win." The win, though, certainly didn't come easy. The Hokies led by as many as 16 with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game and appeared to be in control. But their poor free-throw shooting allowed Iowa back in the game and nearly cost them. Tech hit just 9-of-16 from the stripe in the final two minutes and Iowa shaved that 16-point deficit to four, 69-65, on a 3-pointer by Justin Johnson with 33 seconds left in the game. The Hawkeyes then fouled Jamon Gordon with 31 seconds left, and Gordon missed two free throws, giving the Hawkeyes the ball with a chance to cut into the lead farther. But Tyler Smith missed a tough shot in the lane with 16 seconds left and A.D. Vassallo rebounded for the Hokies. Vassallo got fouled immediately by J.R. Angle, but he, too, missed two free throws, giving the Hawkeyes another opportunity. Fortunately for the Hokies, their defense was tenacious in the final seconds as Iowa found it hard to get a shot off and ran down most of the clock off. Tony Freeman ended up missing a 3-pointer at the horn, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway considering no time remained and Iowa trailed by four. For the game, Tech made just 17-of-33 from the free-throw line. "We got to just keep on working at it," Greenberg said of his team's free-throw shooting. "Some of it's mental. Some of it's physical. Some of it's getting the right guys to the free-throw line." "That's something that definitely has to improve because we could have lost this game because of free throws," said guard Zabian Dowdell, who hit 4-of-6 from the line and led Tech with 18 points. "We just have to continue working on it in practice and get better." That, though, was about the only thing that went wrong for the Hokies on this evening. Tech held Iowa to just 42.6 percent from the floor - and the Hawkeyes got most of that in the final five minutes - and forced 19 turnovers. The Hokies took advantage of those turnovers, too, scoring 25 points off of them. This game represented a stark contrast to the Hokies' previous game against Southern Illinois at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. In that one, the Salukis shot 51.5 percent against Tech's defense. "We got away from who we were for about seven or eight days of practice because we had to get ready for a game [the Old Spice Classic]," Greenberg said. "And who we are is a bunch of dirt bags who have to dig in and defend and check people. That's who we are. We got back to our identity. If we check people, we've got a chance to win a bunch of games. I think I got that message across the past couple of days and it's one we're not going to lose sight of." After seeing his team fall in that game and unhappy with his team's post production and effort, Greenberg decided to start sophomore Cheick Diakite and freshman Lewis Witcher in the post over normal starters Coleman Collins and Robert Krabbendam. The two of them combined for 13 points, five rebounds, and six blocked shots, with Witcher, a 6-foot-9 power forward from Rocky Mount, Va., contributing seven points, four rebounds and five blocks in his first career start. Collins, the 6-9 senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., came off the bench to score 10 points. "It's a different feel to the game," Collins said. "You have to be ready at any moment to go out there. But I felt I was pretty effective and provided a spark. Starting and scoring points and all that, it really isn't important. I'm just glad we got a win today. We're really happy about this win because we're trying to get some momentum as we go into this weekend and the rest of the non-conference slate." Dowdell led the Hokies with 18 points, hitting 6-of-14 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from beyond the 3-point arc. Gordon and Deron Washington added nine each for Tech, which shot 43.6 percent from the floor and turned the ball over just eight times the entire game. The Hokies now get ready to hit the road, with a game set against George Washington in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Tip-off is slated for 4 p.m.