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ACC BASKETBALL: Bad slump weighs on Brown

GREENSBORO—Virginia Tech guard Robert Brown stood in front of his locker at Philips Arena a little over a year ago and spoke optimistically about his team’s 2012–13 prospects.

Brown had just scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in a narrow loss to Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals in Atlanta and had good reason to think there were better things in store for this season.

Now a sophomore, Brown couldn’t have imagined his second season at Tech going so poorly.

The Hokies, who won their first seven games, are 13–18 and all but guaranteed their second straight losing season. And Brown hasn’t reached the potential he showed last year as a freshman.

“It’s been tough. We have the talent on this team to win games and we started off strong, but we haven’t sustained it,” Brown said. “To start off the way we did and end the season like we did last year and to not be able to keep it going is kind of agonizing.”

The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Brown, who has suffered through a prolonged shooting slump this season, still has at least one more game to play this season. He is eager to do his part in trying to win the 12th-ranked Hokies an improbable ACC tournament championship.

Tech takes on fifth-seeded N.C. State (22–9) today at 2:30 p.m. in the first round of the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum.

The Hokies are looking to become the first team seeded seventh or lower to win an ACC championship.

“We could be the first. Anything can happen,” said Tech senior guard Erick Green, who proved many doubters wrong by winning the ACC’s player of the year award. “I believe it’s a fresh start. I’ve seen teams get upset here in the tournament. It just depends on how your mentality is when you walk in here.

“If you just want to lay down and get the season over with, that’s how it’s going to be. But if you want to win this thing and come out and play and prove everybody wrong, you’ll come out with your hard hat on and be ready to play.”

If Tech is to make a historic run here, it’ll need Brown to find the same form that helped the Hokies take Duke to the limit in last year’s tournament.

Brown’s struggles have been particularly bad over the last month. In the last eight games, he has reached double-figure points only three times and has been held to one or no field goals on four occasions.

Brown has scored three points in each of the last two games. He played a season-low nine minutes at Wake Forest on Sunday in the regular-season finale while sophomore Marquis Rankin came off the bench to score 15 points in 32 minutes.

“I’ve seen him down sometimes, but I don’t think his confidence is down,” Tech junior forward Cadarian Raines said of Brown. “He knows he can score the ball at any time of the game.”

Green, who overcame struggles early in his career to become an NBA prospect, shares an off-campus apartment with Brown. He has been a source of encouragement for Brown as he goes through his sophomore slump.

“I just tell him some of the stories from my freshman year. He thinks he’s in a bad slump—I don’t think anybody is in as bad a slump as [I was],” said Green, who shot 29.3 percent and averaged 2.6 points per game as a freshman. “I just try to joke with him and try to keep him positive. People come out of slumps. Everybody goes through a funk. I just try to keep his head right.”

Brown has spent extra time in the gym to regain his shooting rhythm, and he says he’s making more of an effort to go to the basket early in games instead of settling on jump shots.

He has shown brief glimpses of coming out of his slump, like his 13-point

performance in a 69–61 home win over Clemson on March 2.

But the Hokies can’t afford anything less from Brown if they expect to beat the Wolfpack today.

“We need Rob bad,” Green said. “He’s a big part of our offense, him and Jarell [Eddie]. Scoring the ball is going to be a big part for us [today]. A lot of people focus on me, and I think we can loosen them up if Jarell is hitting and Rob is hitting.”

Tech is confident it can give N.C. State a game. The Hokies and Wolfpack went down to the wire in their only regular-season meeting in Raleigh on Feb. 16, but N.C. State eventually broke away in a 90–86 overtime win.

“I think people are looking past us a little bit, and it’s the perfect opportunity to sneak in a couple of wins,” Brown said. “We played well against N.C. State the last time we were down there, and we just need to come out with the win. I think if we come in with the same mindset and the same aggressiveness, we can get this win.”

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442