Virginia Tech could have traveled to the 58th
tournament in a medical mini-van, so worn, injured and short-staffed were the
But as they've done all season when confronted with adversity and creeping doubts, they responded with a worthy performance.
Candidates for toe tags after a pair of dismal losses to conclude the regular season, the sixth-seeded Hokies live to play another day after a 59-43 strangulation of
in the final game of Thursday's opening round.
"We've been playing through adversity the whole year," said Tech guard Malcolm Delaney, who led a balanced effort with 15 points. "I mean, we've been losing guys left and right. We've just got an attitude where we bounce back with what we have, and we've got seven guys that go out and give their all."
The seven remaining scholarship Hokies (20-10) draw third-seeded
in Friday's last quarterfinal, a 9:30 p.m. start at the Greensboro Coliseum.
"Usually, a lot of teams don't go more than seven deep anway," Delaney said. "But we just can't get in foul trouble. We've got to play a lot smarter. And like I said, those two guys that we've got coming off the bench have to follow the game plan and come in and play smart and play as hard as they can."
It didn't hurt that the Hokies drew Georgia Tech (13-18) in Thursday's opening round. The Yellow Jackets won only three games outside the city of Atlanta all season and appeared to be playing out the string under coach Paul Hewitt, who might as well have the word "embattled" as a prefix to his name.
The Hokies, meanwhile, seemed to rediscover their mojo after late-season losses to Boston College and Clemson the first time they lost back-to-back games since December.
"We talked about just playing ball," Tech coach
said. "We talked about pressure. Pressure isn't playing a basketball game. Pressure is being a single parent and having to raise a family and work two jobs to get food. This is basketball, and I want you to just go out and play ball and have fun just like you did when you were a kid in the park.
"I think that's what these kids did. They just went out and really trusted each other, shared the ball, played really hard. I thought the zone was active as it's been probably two weeks, a week. Made the right decisions. It was just a really good team win."
Playing on a tender ankle, Jeff Allen contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds. Delaney's running mate, guard Erick Green, finished with 11 points.
The Hokies contained Yellow Jackets' guard
(14 points), who torched them for 49 points in their two regular season meetings, and limited Georgia Tech to 32.1 percent shooting.
"I think we played good defense," Hokies wing Terrell Bell said. "I won't say we frustrated them, because I don't know what their game plan was. But I think we played good team defense."
Georgia Tech embodied the old adage that you can't win a game in the first half, but you sure can lose one.
The Yellow Jackets were impatient on offense and sloppy on defense, permitting the depleted Hokies to build confidence and a cushion.
Virginia Tech scored the game's first eight points and jumped out to a 15-2 lead. Georgia Tech missed nine of its first 10 shots. The Hokies led 30-11 by the time the Jackets gained any traction and were up 36-19 at the half.
"It was really important for us to get off to a good start, to make shots, because the last two games we struggled early," Greenberg said. "I think it was important for us to see a big basket, to attack in transition and be aggressive. I think that was really important for us.
"I met with Malcolm before and Erick before pre-game meal, and the biggest thing I wanted them to do was be aggressive. Attack. Don't think too much, especially in transition. When the ball goes in, all of a sudden you gain some confidence, your defense gets more active, you rebound the ball, and you play better."
The Hokies fell behind by double figures early to both Clemson and Boston College. But Thursday, Georgia Tech never got closer than 14 points in the second half and trailed by as many as 24.
It was the lowest-scoring ACC tournament performance since Virginia lost to Duke 63-41 in the 1998 tournament.
"It was important for us today to come out and gain some energy by making some shots, for sure," Greenberg said. "I think if we had struggled early, we're all human. We'd have thought, 'Uh oh, here we go again.' Digging a hole, I'm not sure our team, coming off two losses, was built to play from behind. But I think by getting ahead, I think we gained an energy and a confidence."
Now comes Florida State (21-9), which won five of seven games to conclude the regular season. The Seminoles might get back
, who missed the last five games with a foot fracture.