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ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament: Hokies can’t sink the clutch shots

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

ATLANTA—Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg went into the Atlantic Conference Conference quarterfinals with a succinct plan.

He wanted to make Duke sophomore point guard Tyler Thornton shoot the basketball. Greenberg got his wish as Thornton attempted a career-high 16 shots. He launched 13 3-pointers, but ultimately made three timely ones as the second-seeded Blue Devils escaped Philips Arena with a 60–56 victory over No. 10 Virginia Tech.

“I don’t think going into the game they expected Tyler Thornton to take 16 shots,” Greenberg said of the Blue Devils. “I don’t think they expected him to take 13 3s. They couldn’t get a shot, and that is the shot they ended up getting. We did what we wanted to defensively. Offensively, we weren’t very good.”

That may be an understatement.

The Hokies (16–17) shot 30 percent from the floor as their season came to an end. Standout senior guard Dorenzo Hudson scored just six points on 3-of-9 shooting in his final college game.

Junior guard Erick Green shot 3-of-16.

“It got very frustrating, especially in that first half,” Green said. “It was kind of a struggle.”

The Hokies trailed 31–26 at intermission. Duke (27–5) built a 10-point lead with 8:30 left in the game, but Virginia Tech rallied. The Hokies pulled within 55–51 on Robert Brown’s basket with 1:08 remaining.

Brown was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw and an opportunity to pull his team within three points.

Duke sealed the victory when star freshman guard Austin Rivers converted a three-point play with 15 seconds remaining.

“I’m really proud of our team because we didn’t shoot the ball well, but we didn’t let that dictate our defense,” Rivers said. “I think we learned in that area. In our last game, against North Carolina, we struggled with our shot and had lapses on defense.”

Duke was paced by 17 points from Rivers. Thornton added 13, while Mason Plumlee scored 12 and pulled down 10 rebounds. Green and Brown scored 16 points apiece for the Hokies, who have made the NCAA tournament just once in Greenberg’s nine seasons.

The Hokies lost 11 games by five points or fewer this season. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski shared words of encouragement with Greenberg following the game.

“I think we beat a good team,” Krzyzewski said. “Seth has done a great job of having his kids up all the time, in spite of more close losses, more close games with a greater percentage of them being losses. To keep his team into it like they were [Thursday] and again [Friday], is really a testimony to what a good coach is all about.”

Greenberg defended his program when reminded of his failures to reach the NCAA tournament. His players believe the program can get on the right track soon.

The Hokies are expected to return 10 players next season, including six who were freshmen this season.

“I’m proud of the way a lot of our young guys fought all year,” Green said. “We really worked hard. If we work hard in the offseason, we can have a great year next year.”

    VIRGINIA TECH (16–17)

    Raines 1-6 4-6 6, Finney–Smith 2-7 1-2 7, Eddie 1-3 2-2 5, Hudson 3-9 0-0 6, Green 3-16 9-9 16, Brown 6-9 2-3 16, Rankin 0-0 0-0 0, Barksdale 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 16-53 18-22 56.

    DUKE (27–5)

    Thornton 5-16 0-0 13, Mi. Plumlee 1-2 1-1 3, Mas. Plumlee 4-6 4-5 12, Rivers 5-14 6-8 17, Curry 2-6 4-4 9, Cook 1-2 0-0 2, Hairston 2-3 0-0 4, Dawkins 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 20-54 15-18 60.

    Halftime—Duke 31-26. 3-Point Goals–Virginia Tech 6-12 (Finney–Smith 2-2, Brown 2-3, Eddie 1-2, Green 1-4, Hudson 0-1), Duke 5-26 (Thornton 3-13, Curry 1-4, Rivers 1-6, Dawkins 0-3). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Virginia Tech 38 (Finney–Smith 12), Duke 37 (Mas. Plumlee 10). Assists–Virginia Tech 7 (Eddie, Finney-Smith, Green 2), Duke 10 (Curry 5). Total Fouls–Virginia Tech 19, Duke 18. A–19,520.

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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