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Sports Today / March 15, 2009
ATLANTA - Virginia Tech, which wanted ACC membership badly, left the Georgia Dome with many of its faithful questioning the fairness of it all after another bitter basketball loss to North Carolina.

The NCAA field was set after the newspaper went to press, but it was widely expected that the Hokies are headed back to the National Invitational Tournament after Friday’s 79-76 quarterfinal loss to North Carolina.

Tech (18-14) had an opportunity - multiple opportunities, actually - to take out a Carolina team that went out Friday without ACC player of the year Ty Lawson (toe injury).

The game Friday clearly turned on that well-documented held ball possession with 5.2 ticks left, when Tyler Hansbrough managed to avoid a foul call and tied up Tech’s J.T. Thompson, with Carolina leading by one. At the four second mark, Hansbrough made two free throws for the final 3-point margin. Tech’s A.D. Vassallo missed a three-pointer with one second left, with Hansbrough defending, and the Hokies had absorbed another painful lesson in Tobacco Road basketball.

Tech fans can argue all they like about the officiating, but they might as well be howling at the moon. Yes, mistakes were made, but Tech, like everybody else, has to play through the officiating.

If Tech has a burden trying to get past the Tar Heels, they ought to check in with Sidney Lowe and the NC State faithful. The Wolfpack had a perfectly serviceable coach in Herb Sendek, who had gotten the Wolfpack program on solid NCAA footing, but ran him off to Arizonza State because State still could not compete with UNC and Duke. The ‘Pack has not been back to the NCAAs since, and they know just how challenging it is to hang with the Tar Heels and Blue Devils.

North Carolina and Duke helped defined classic late-game basketball and hoops drama in the ACC, and it’s no accident the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have basically dominated the conference scene the last two decades.

Chasing down the Heels and Blue Devils for league supremacy might come later. For now, Tech has to find a way to start winning more critical close games.

The Hokies have a very respectable club, and when the three-headed monster of Vassallo, Jeff Allen and Malcolm Delaney play well, they can hang with almost anybody, especially in the Cassell.

But Tech also is learning just how hard it is to win ACC tournament games.

This was the fifth ACC tournament for the Hokies, who are now 4-5 overall in John Swofford’s big postseason bash, and they’ve gone no deeper than last year’s semifinals (another painful loss to UNC)

The disheartened looks in Tech’s locker room were part of a frustrating season for the Hokies, who have had a couple of quality wins, but searing heartache, too.

Tech’s first four losses this season came by a total of eight points, and two (Xavier and Wisconsin) came with less than one second on the clock.

Heading into the ACC tournament, four of Tech’s losses this season had come on with less than 10 seconds on the clock.

Following the ACC tournament, Tech is 7-8 this season in games that were decided in overtime or by five-or-fewer points.

Maybe it will all change next season and Tech will have an honest to goodness breakthrough campaign, especially if there are widespread early departures for the NBA among the Hokies’ ACC competition.

But Roy Williams is still going to be ‘old Roy, and Carolina is going to be loaded again, at least with young talent.

And Duke will likely be the best team in the ACC, especially if Gerald Henderson, who could bolt this season, decides to stay and make a serious run at national player of the year honors and a possible Final Four in his senior season.

The Hokies are an ACC football powerhouse, and will probably win the league title again next season. Men’s basketball? Tech is certainly competitive, but is part of a pack basically playing for third place in the current scheme of things.

DID HE OR DIDN’T HE? There were many different opinions swirling around the Georgia Dome after Hansbrough may have gotten away with a foul, or just made a heck of a defensive play tying up Thompson, forcing the decisive shift in ‘Big Mo’ that went UNC’s way.

Asked about the held ball, Hansbrough said, “I saw him (Thompson) coming down the lane. It looked like he just stopped and I went over to get the ball. Plain and simple.”

Asked about the play, Tech coach Seth Greenberg said, “What I saw doesn’t count, so it makes no difference. The only people that count were the guys wearing striped shirts.”

The view to the kill was a bit different in the Hokie locker room.

Thompson said, “I felt them on the back, but I can’t complain about the refs, they called a good game. That’s what happened, they called a jump ball.

“I felt the arm reaching about, but you feel bumps every now and then, you still don’t get the call,” said Thompson.

Said Malcolm Delaney, “J.T. was open. They had three people on his back, A.D. was open. Somehow, somebody reached behind his back, grabbed the ball, and that’s a jump ball.

“In my opinion, that was a foul. Three people on somebody’s back, that’s a foul. Everybody who knows basketball knows that.

“We were position to win the game, we just didn’t do it,” said Delaney.

Hansbrough, who had 28 points and eight boards, led four Heels in double figures and the Heels closed the deal. Carolina made a wise decision to rest Lawson in a game, honestly, of little real significance to their postseason. The Heels got valuable contributions from others making up for the loss of Lawson, including freshman Ed Davis, who had a terrific outing with 10 points, six boards, one block and a steal in 19 minutes.

Thompson, asked about his feelings about this second straight loss to UNC, said, “I’m mad, because I had a chance to beat them again, but it seemed like the same thing happened that happened last year. I’m very upset.”

LOCKDOWN D - Earlier, the Hokies took advantage of lockdown defense - featuring Dorenzo Hudson and Committee - on Miami’s Jack McClinton in Thursday’s 65-47 win over the ‘Canes.

McClinton had posted 83 double-figure scoring games in 92 appearances as a Hurricane heading to the tournament, including 53 of his last 55. Thus, McClinton’s nine-point, one-assist, seven-turnover meltdown drew major attention here.

Hudson, who came to Blacksburg from Hargrave Military Academy, explained his defensive effort, after taking over the assignment from Malcolm Delaney.

“He’s a great player, he’s got a lot of moves. You’ve got to try to keep a hand on him and get help off the passes. We did a good job chasing him and once he got the pass you had help with that situation. Sometimes I would play off him and other times I stay up on him. I just tried to mix it up a bit and see what happened,” said Hudson.

Hudson sensed frustration building up in McClinton, who had few good looks against the Hokies. (In fairness to the UM standout, it should also be pointed out he has been slowed by a sore knee.)

Hudson and the rest of the Hokies had a superb overall effort in the ACC tournament opener, after Greenberg had tried to get Tech to relax and stop fretting over NCAA tournament pressure talk.

“It worked real well, because he was like, at the end of the day (Selection Sunday), they’re going to make their own decision….We’re going to be in some tourney,” said Hudson.

The advice from Greenberg was, “don’t worry about what tourney you’re going to, give it all you’ve got on the court, and winning will take care of itself. So we did.”

For one evening, at least.

Reality - and the Tar Heels - arrived one night later.

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