With Jeff Allen suspended, Virginia Tech needed its secondary players to emerge Wednesday night at Virginia.
When top scorer Malcolm Delaney turned up the basketball equivalent of AWOL, the Hokies' need became more acute.
Didn't happen. Not close.
Conversely, Cavaliers supporting actors — hey, it's Oscar season — such as Assane Sene and Tunji Soroye made vital contributions at both ends to spark Virginia's 75-61 victory at raucous John Paul Jones Arena.
Not far removed from an eight-game, 39-day winless stretch, Virginia boasts two victories in four days.
Winner of five straight last month, including a 78-75 decision over the Cavaliers, Virginia Tech has dropped four of its last six to jeopardize its NCAA tournament chances.
But any semblance of normalcy for this game vanished when Allen, the Hokies' top rebounder and No. 3 scorer, got himself busted for a game by flipping off fans at Maryland on Saturday.
Given Allen's absence, Mike Scott inside figured to be one of Virginia's best offensive matchups. But Scott committed two quick fouls and played only four first-half minutes.
No worries for the Cavs (9-13, 3-8).
In Scott's absence, Sene and Soroye provided — dare we say? — intimidating post presence on both ends.
Sene got loose for two easy dunks and altered several shots near the bucket. Soroye blocked a J.T. Thompson shot and scored six points in the final four minutes of the first half as Virginia used an 11-2 run to lead 39-29 at the break.
That's 10 first-half points for a duo that, in 10 previous conference games this season, averaged 3.8 points combined.
"I wouldn't give them too much credit," Thompson said. "I'd say we were messing up."
The Sene-Soroye numbers weren't the most troubling in the first half for the Hokies (16-9, 6-5). This was: two.
That was the number of shots Delaney attempted in 20 minutes. When you're No. 3 scorer is suspended, your top scorer sure as heck better be hoisting more than two shots.
"Part of it was their (zone) defense," Delaney said, "and I passed up a lot of shots."
The game's most telling sequence transpired early in the second half with the Cavaliers leading 46-33.
Delaney forced a corner 3-pointer off an inbounds play. Air ball.
A.D. Vassallo rebounded, but Sene swatted his stickback. Tech retained possession, and Vassallo missed a runner over Sene, the ball dribbling out of bounds to the Hokies.
Finally, Thompson burrowed inside, only to be rejected by Sene.
Four shots, no points. The Hokies were just about done.
Sene and Soroye weren't as forceful during the second half, but Scott scored 10 points to extend the Cavaliers' inside dominance.
How much did Tech miss Allen?
"A lot," Delaney said. "A whole lot. We needed a low-post presence."
Please excuse this redundancy, but freshman guard Sylven Landesberg (19 points, nine rebounds and six assists) led Virginia.
Landesberg will not win national freshman of the year. That honor appears reserved for Oklahoma's Willie Warren or Memphis' Tyreke Evans, both guards.
But as talented as those young men are, consider their surroundings. Evans plays alongside a few leftovers from last season's national runner-up; Warren runs with Blake Griffin, Division I's best player and the presumptive No. 1 pick of this year's NBA draft.
Landesberg? His teammates are, to be kind, limited.
Warren and Evans may be more skilled and more valued NBA prospects, but find me a freshman more valuable to his team.
Without Landesberg, U.Va. is U.Va.-Wise.
No wonder Virginia devotes an entire page of its media game notes to Landesberg, the nation's No. 2 freshman scorer behind Liberty's Seth Curry. No wonder the ACC has selected him rookie of the week six times.
Already Landesberg has dusted Virginia's freshman record for 20-point games with 12. Ralph Sampson had nine. Next up, Tyler Hansbrough's ACC mark of 14.
Delaney extended his ACC-best streak of double-figure games to 30 with 11 points Wednesday. But most of them were empty, and he missed 10 of 13 shots.
Virginia Tech's five remaining regular-season games — Florida State, at Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, and at Florida State — feature opponents that will make the NCAA tournament.
The issue is, will the Hokies?
It's a darn fine question, but this much we know: Virginia Tech will have ample opportunity to prove its NCAA worthiness while Virginia continues its drive toward salvaging a season that once appeared lost.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.
Cavaliers dominate listless Hokies inside