Tech falls to Wolfpack 72-64 in ACC tourney
    By Jimmy Robertson
    March 10, 2007

    Box Score N.C. State 72, Virginia Tech 64
     
    TAMPA, Fla. - Despite seeing four players score in double figures, the Virginia Tech Hokies shot the ball poorly both from the field and from the free-throw line, got behind early and never caught up, falling to the N.C. State Wolfpack 72-64 in an ACC tournament semifinal game played Saturday afternoon at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.

    With the loss, Tech fell to 21-11 on the season and lost to the Wolfpack for the third time this season. N.C. State moved to 18-14 overall, advancing to the ACC tournament title game for the first time since 2003. The Wolfpack will meet North Carolina, 71-56 winners over BC in the other semifinal game, tomorrow at 1 p.m. in search of the school's first ACC tournament title since 1987.

    "To lose to a team three times in a season, man, that eats at you as a competitor," Tech's Zabian Dowdell said. "That'll make you lose sleep at night."

    The Hokies figure to lose more sleep than just the hour because of daylight savings time. They figure to be pondering this loss for a while in large part because of some terrible shooting, particularly at the free-throw line.

    Tech shot just 41.9 percent from the floor for the game. But it was worse at the free-throw line where the Hokies connected on a terrible 8-of-19. It was a team effort as well as Markus Sailes went 1-for-6 from the stripe, Jamon Gordon hit just 2-of-5 and Coleman Collins misfired on both of his attempts.

    "To not be able to step up to the line and make a free throw, that's almost like a turnover," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "Obviously that set us back a bit."

    The game followed the same pattern as the other two meetings between the Hokies and the Wolfpack, with Tech getting behind early and never catching up. N.C. State trailed 6-5 after Tech's A.D. Vassallo hit a shot with 16:53 left in the first half, but the Wolfpack ripped off an 18-6 run after that and never trailed again.

    Tech managed to tie the game on two occasions in the second half, using a 14-4 run spanning both halves to tie the game at 35 on a Lewis Witcher stickback with 14:52 remaining. The Hokies also tied it at 48 on a Vassallo 3-pointer with 7:12 left, but just never could get over the hump.

    N.C. State went on a 10-2 run after Vassallo's shot to build its lead to eight and Tech never got closer than three the rest of the way.

    "That [getting the lead] would have been big," Dowdell said. "I think that would have calmed us down some. We were scratching and clawing, trying to get back in the game. We just couldn't get a point ahead. I think that does a lot for your mindset when you're out there with the lead. You can play a bit more relaxed."

    Dowdell paced the Hokies with 15 points, but the senior from Pahokee, Fla., hit just 6-of-19 from the floor. He hit just 12-of-33 in two games in the tournament.

    "I got some good opportunities," Dowdell said. "I went into the lane a lot, but I think I did a bad job of finishing. I just wasn't feeling it."

    Vassallo and Gordon added 12 points each against the Wolfpack, while Deron Washington finished with 11. Gordon contributed 11 rebounds and four assists, game highs in both categories. The double-double marked the first of the season for Gordon and the fifth of his career.

    N.C. State, which shot 52.5 percent from the floor, got 20 points from junior Gavin Grant, who got most of those at the free-throw line. Grant hit 11-of-11 from the line, and N.C. State, as a team, hit 24-of-28. They hit 12-of-14 in the final three minutes of the game, thus never allowing Tech to climb ahead.

    "I'm still disappointed, and like I told the guys, they need to hurt and they need to be disappointed," Greenberg said. "We were in a position to win and didn't do the things you need to do to win a game.

    "Having said that, we're going to go home tomorrow [Sunday] and we're going to meet and we're going to watch our name come up on that screen and that's a hell of an accomplishment for a group of guys who no one thought could play in the ACC, the Big East or anywhere else. That's a hell of a statement for our program. In four short years, we've gone from the worst program in the Big East to the NCAA Tournament and I'm very proud of our guys. Tomorrow is going to be a great day for us."

    The Hokies figure to be locks to make the NCAA Tournament. Assuming they make the field, they'll find out their opponent Sunday night during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

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