- Virginia Tech missed 18 of its last 20 shots
- Malcolm Delany made just 1 of 9 shots in the second half
- This is the third straight season Virginia Tech missed a trip to New York
The end, a Malcolm Delaney airball at the horn – could not have been more fitting.
One victory shy of finding some solace amid a frustrating season, Virginia Tech melted down Wednesday night on its home court.
The Hokies missed 18 of their final 20 shots, squandered a 12-point lead and lost to Rhode Island 79-72 in an NIT quarterfinal.
After making its first seven shots of the second half, Tech was 24-of-34 (70.6 percent) from the field. The Hokies finished 26-of-54.
It wasn't Rhode Island's defense, the Atlantic 10's worst. It was Tech's offense.
The Hokies not only missed shots – Delaney, their all-ACC guard, was 1-for-9 in the second half -- but also committed sloppy turnovers, 16 for the game, 11 in the first half.
"I thought we just made some really bad decisions on the offensive end," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said.
The defeat typified Tech's season. The Hokies (25-9) were oh-so-close to making the NCAA tournament. They beat quality teams on the road and at neutral sites despite key injuries. They lost only once at home during the regular season.
But it wasn't enough to earn an NCAA bid. Just as Wednesday wasn't enough.
Tech was poised for a trip to New York for the NIT semifinals, where it would have played the marquee game Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden against North Carolina.
Losses to the Tar Heels in each of the last three seasons contributed to Tech missing the NCAA tournament and settling for the NIT. So imagine the anticipation among Hokies faithful for a postseason crack at Carolina.
It should have happened. Tech led Rhode Island 60-48 with 14:30 remaining. Cassell Coliseum was jumpin', and Delaney, Dorenzo Hudson and Jeff Allen couldn't miss.
Less than four minutes later, the Rams (26-9) led 61-60. Hudson's runner in the lane knotted the score at 71, but the Hokies crumbled again, prompting Greenberg to slam his fist into the padded scorer's table.
For much of the evening, the game had nearly everything you'd want in March, except national-title stakes.
Shooters, bigs and athletes. Full-court pressure, half-court traps and basic man-to-man. Two expertly coached teams.
Rhode Island, don't forget, was set to make the NCAA tournament before losing five of seven games to close the regular season.
The Hokies feel the Rams' pain. This is the third consecutive season Tech missed the NCAA tournament, the third consecutive season the NIT handed it nothing but home games.
Still, the Hokies have yet to make New York in that stretch. They lost to Mississippi two years ago and Baylor last.
"I don't know if it was the stage or pressure," Greenberg said, "but I'm just really disappointed."
Next season should include no such issues.
Tech expects to return its top 11 scorers from a team that was 10-6 in the ACC. Moreover, 6-foot-9 forward Allan Chaney, an acclaimed transfer from Florida, becomes eligible.
The Hokies should not only earn an NCAA bid, but do so comfortably while contending for the conference regular-season title and a spot in the top 25, and enjoying a decided home-court advantage.
Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium has more history, while the new sandboxes at Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina State offer more amenities, but when Cassell is full, there's no better or louder home court in the ACC.
Prior to Wednesday, Tech lost just once here in 17 games this season, when the conference's player of the year, Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, went off for 41 points in a double-overtime classic.
That defeat probably cost the Hokies an NCAA bid. Wednesday's cost them a trip to New York and additional national exposure.
No wonder Greenberg is disappointed.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime