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Hokies long on pride if short on experience

 Terps coach Gary Williams tried to keep his team driving to end, but to no avail.
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Date published: 2/21/2008

By Steve DeShazo


Just when you think you have a feel for the jumbled Atlantic Coast Conference race, you throw out all conventional wisdom.

Who'd have thought Duke could lose two straight league games--to Wake Forest and Miami, no less--after starting 10-0 in the league?

Even more shocking, just four days after a listless, embarrassing 39-point loss at North Carolina, Virginia Tech came into Comcast Center last night and shocked one of the conference's hottest teams, Maryland, 69-65.

There was absolutely no reason to see this coming. Maryland had won 12 of its last 15 and raced to a 28-14 lead. The Hokies, some of whom questioned their own intensity after the Chapel Hill debacle, seemed destined for another drubbing.

But then a funny thing happened. The team that seemed to quit Saturday suddenly found its pride. Freshman center Jeff Allen, who starred at nearby DeMatha High School, became a beast inside.

Junior A.D. Vassallo started to play like an all-ACC performer, sinking a couple of clutch 3-pointers that silenced a once-raucous Comcast Center.

Even Dorenzo Hudson, who left the game after vomiting late in the first half, returned (in a new uniform with a new number and no name on the back) and nailed a 3-pointer that sparked the Hokies' comeback.

It all made for great drama--even if it made no sense.

After an encouraging start to the season, the Hokies (14-11) seemed to be coming back to earth. They had lost three straight, capped by their nationally televised debacle in Chapel Hill.

But there's something lovable about this scrappy team. They lost senior guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon to graduation, and what team can be expected to compete in the rugged ACC with freshman guards?

Instead, the Hokies twice made up late deficits to beat Virginia in overtime, and they showed more heart last night than anyone outside Blacksburg could have given them credit for.

Allen, who was a non-factor with six points against the Tar Heels, .was unstoppable inside against the bigger Terrapins in the second half, scoring 11 of his 14 points. He also blocked a couple of shots by more experienced rivals James Gist and Bambale Osby, showing the toughness that was absent recently.

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