March 26, 2008
Cold shooting, Ole Miss rebounding bounces Tech from NIT
By Jimmy Robertson
Mississippi (24-10, 7-9 SEC) 334881
Virginia Tech (21-14, 9-7 ACC) 314172
  • Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va. - 9,615
  • High Points: 23 - Deron Washington
  • High Rebounds: 5 - JT Thompson

Virginia Tech's cold shooting and Ole Miss' powerful inside game were too much for the Hokies to overcome, as they fell to the Rebels 81-72 in an NIT quarterfinal game played Wednesday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Cassell Coliseum.

The Hokies, who came into the game having played brilliantly down the stretch in winning seven of the past nine games, wrapped up the season with a 21-14 overall mark. Tech lost for the first time in 11 NIT home games and saw its 22-game home court winning streak against non-conference opponents come to an end.

"I'm really proud of what we were able to accomplish this season," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "We've accomplished some really special things. We won 21 games, got a bye in the ACC tournament, got to the semifinals, played three games in postseason - those are all tremendous accomplishments for such a young team.

"Having said that, I'm obviously disappointed in the way we played today. We just couldn't get a 50-50 ball and we didn't have a presence defensively. Their size and maturity up front knocked the crap out of us. They were tougher than us. You have to give them credit."

The Hokies simply couldn't get baskets at crucial times and ended up shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor against Ole Miss' 2-3 zone. But the Rebels combination of quick point guard Chris Warren and the burly duo of Dwayne Curtis and Kenny Williams probably hurt Tech more.

Warren - a freshman - scored 22 points and dished out six assists, and both Curtis and Williams finished with double-doubles. Curtis scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Williams scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The Rebels punished Tech on the boards, out-rebounding the Hokies 46-23. It marked just the second time in the past 10 games that the Hokies had been out-rebounded.

"They were physical from the jump [opening tip]," Tech's Deron Washington said. "They just pushed us around and that's what hurt us the whole game."

The Hokies bolted out to an early 12-3 lead, but never found their stroke after that, as Ole Miss came back and took a 33-31 lead at the break. The Rebels opened that lead to five in the early part of the second half, but Tech scrambled around to tied the game at 46 on J.T. Thompson's basket with 11:58 remaining.

Then came the Ole Miss run that put the Hokies away. Thanks to Warren, the Rebels went on a 15-3 run to take a 12-point lead. Warren scored seven of those 15 and the Hokies got no closer than six points the remainder of the game.

"We obviously didn't do a good job of guarding Warren," Greenberg said.

Playing in what turned out to be his final game, Washington concluded an outstanding career by scoring a game-high 23 points. He hit 6-of-11 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line.

"It's tough knowing that my career is over here," Washington said. "But it's been a fun journey. Just having the crowd support here and having my mom with me, it's just been a fun ride. I'm going to miss it."

Standout forward A.D. Vassallo, who had been red hot coming into the game, scored 16 points, but suffered an off game, hitting just 6-of-21 from the floor, including 4-of-13 from beyond the 3-point arc. Malcolm Delaney added 14 points and five assists for the Hokies as well.

Tech, which was picked to finish 10th in the ACC this season in the league's preseason poll, returns four starters and all of its key reserves as it heads into the 2008-09 season. And expectations figure to be high.

"Just because we won games this year doesn't mean we're going to win them next year. Everyone is getting better," Greenberg said. "We've got to work harder and we've got to improve some deficiencies.

"But I like our team. I think we've got a core group that is pretty good. We're going to miss Deron's burst and play-making ability, but we've got some guys who I think can do some things."

For updates on Virginia Tech men's basketball, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_MBBall).

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