Malcolm Delaney scored 13 of his 23 points in the final eight minutes, the smaller Virginia Tech team out-rebounded Georgia Tech, and a defensive change by Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg midway through the second half all proved pivotal as the Hokies won their second straight game, knocking off Georgia Tech 76-71 in an ACC game played Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum.
With the win, the Hokies moved to 16-7 overall, 6-3 in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets, who have lost three straight and eight of nine, fell to 10-13, 1-9 in the ACC.
The Hokies never trailed in this one, using an 11-2 run to end the first half and take a 41-31 lead at the break and then expanding the lead to 13 early in the second half.
But the Yellow Jackets’ press – which gave the Hokies trouble most of the game – enabled them to cut into the lead. Iman Shumpert’s 3-pointer with 9:26 remaining cut the lead to three, 55-52.
At that point, Greenberg decided to switch defenses, changing from his traditional man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone. The Hokies responded by holding Georgia Tech without a basket for nearly a five-minute stretch, and Cheick Diakite’s jumper polished off a 10-2 Virginia Tech run that enabled the Hokies to grab a 65-54 lead with 5:27 remaining.
Georgia Tech cut the lead to three points twice in the final 1:22, but two free throws each by Delaney and Hank Thorns in the final 1:12 sealed things for the Hokies.
“I thought the 2-3 zone was huge for us down the stretch,” Greenberg said. “Obviously, that’s not my personality, but we were in severe foul trouble and we weren’t doing a very good job of defending the ball screen. They were getting the ball inside too easily, which has been a problem recently for us. I thought the zone could buy us some time and that’s why I went to it. It was an active, quick, alert 2-3 zone and we did a good job of rebounding out of that.”
Rebounding was a theme Greenberg preached the past two days in practices, and the Hokies responded by out-rebounding a bigger Georgia Tech squad 43-40, including a 16-11 advantage on the offensive glass. The Yellow Jackets went into the contest out-rebounding opponents by a margin of 5.7 per game, but the Hokies’ Jeff Allen grabbed nine boards and both Diakite and Terrell Bell each finished with seven.
“This was a man’s game today,” Greenberg said. “If you weren’t going to be a man today, then you weren’t going to rebound the ball. It was going to be a man’s game and you had to step up and bow your neck and find a way to come up with a rebound.”
Delaney, who only hit 4-of-12 from the floor, still managed to end up with 23 and scored 13 of the Hokies’ final 21 points. He made hay at the free-throw line, hitting 14-of-15 from the stripe, including all 11 attempts in the final eight minutes.
“I started attacking the basket more,” Delaney said of his outburst down the stretch. “I was trying to draw fouls. They like to block shots, and it’s easier to draw fouls on a team that likes to block shots. You just attack the basket hard and hope the refs call it.”
A.D. Vassallo added 18 points, hitting four 3-pointers, and Allen finished with 15 points. Diakite gave the Hokies a huge boost by scoring a career-high 10 points and grabbed the seven boards. The game marked his first double-figure scoring game of his career.
Gani Lawal led the Yellow Jackets with 23 points, hitting 9-of-16 from the floor, and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Alade Aminu added 13 points and seven rebounds, while Zachery Peacock scored 12 and Shumpert finished with 11.
The Yellow Jackets, plagued by poor shooting all season (ninth in the ACC in field-goal percentage and 11th in 3-point percentage), hit just 39.7 percent from the floor and made just four of 18 3-point attempts.
The Hokies now hit the road for two straight games, starting this Saturday with a trip to College Park, Md., to play Maryland. Tip off for the game is slated for 4 p.m.
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