Stingy defense helps Tech drill Wake in ACC tourney
By Jimmy Robertson
March 10, 2007 TAMPA, Fla. - Jamon Gordon more than lived up to his billing as the ACC's defensive player of the year, leading the way for a Tech defensive effort that forced 18 turnovers as the Hokies methodically dismantled Wake Forest in the second half en route to a 71-52 victory over the Demon Deacons in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. With the win, Tech moved to 21-10 overall, while Wake, a surprise first-round winner over Georgia Tech, finished its season with a 15-16 mark. The Hokies achieved yet another milestone this season, winning an ACC tournament game for the first time since joining the league three years ago. "It's pretty exciting," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "These guys now have a chance to celebrate their first ACC tournament victory and play on. I couldn't be more proud and happier for them. They've really persevered and that's what it's all about." "It means a lot for our team and our program to get a win in the tournament," Gordon said. "The win helped us get over the hump. But we don't want to stop with one win." Tech put forth arguably its best defensive effort of the season to get this one. The Hokies held Wake to just 40 percent shooting from the floor and finished with 13 steals. Gordon, the senior from Jacksonville, Fla., who was named the league's defensive player of the year this past Tuesday, finished with seven of those steals. Wake point guard Ishmael Smith - who was guarded by Gordon most of the night - turned the ball over six times, while post player Kyle Visser turned it over five times. "I thought we did a great job of transition defense," Gordon said. "We were trying to get in front of him [Smith] and make him make a tough pass because we saw last night [Thursday night] he was killing Georgia Tech, getting around them and dropping off to Visser. Coach told the big men not to come up and help, and we just stayed in front of him and made him make tough passes and tough shots." Tech's defense enabled it to put away the Demon Deacons in the second half, giving up just one field goal in a 9:46 stretch. Holding a slim three-point lead with just under 18 minutes to go, the Hokies broke open the game with a 19-5 run that gave them a comfortable 17-point bulge. Tech scored the last eight points in that run off Wake turnovers. Smith's turnover led to a Zabian Dowdell basket with 9:30 left in the game, giving Tech its biggest lead at the time, 59-42. The Hokies ended up leading by as many as 22 in cruising to the win. The most telling stat in this one was points off turnovers. The Hokies scored 25 points off turnovers, compared to just three for Wake. "I thought the game was won in the second half," Greenberg said. "We really just guarded. We did a great job of containing the ball in transition and we did a better job of defending the post early." Offensively, Tech set a tournament record, committing just two turnovers for the entire game - none in the second half. That marked the fewest turnovers in an ACC tournament game since the shot clock was instituted. "I probably had hair on my head," Greenberg said when asked when the last time a team of his committed only two turnovers. "We put a premium on taking care of the ball. It doesn't always work that way, but they know it's not well thought of to turn the ball over in our practices. We try to make them make good decisions and simple passes. We know we're not a great rebounding team, so we have to take care of the ball." A.D. Vassallo paced a balanced Tech attack with 22 points, hitting 8-of-17 from the floor, including four 3-pointers. Dowdell, who was named first-team All-ACC on Monday, finished with 13 points and dished out six assists, while Deron Washington also finished with 13 points, including two thunderous breakaway dunks. Gordon added 10 points and five assists to go with his seven steals. Visser was the lone Demon Deacon in double figures. He closed out his college career with a double-double, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Hokies advanced to the semifinals of the tournament where they will take on N.C. State for the third time this season. The Wolfpack won both regular-season meetings, beating Tech 79-59 at Cassell Coliseum and then using 11 3-pointers to blow out the Hokies 81-56 in Raleigh, N.C. "That's a good question," Greenberg said when asked how he planned on defending N.C. State. "Any suggestions?" Tip-off for the game is slated at approximately 4 p.m.