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January 26, 2008
On the ACC Bubble
Virginia Tech 81, Boston College 73 (OT)

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Virginia Tech (11-8, 2-3 ACC) at Boston College (12-5, 3-1)
Rankings: Virginia Tech, #56 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in ACC); Boston College, #69 (10th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Boston College, 64-62 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%

Boston College excels at: Keeping foes off the free-throw line (8th lowest opponent free throw rate in Division I) and blocking shots (11th best block percentage).

Virginia Tech excels at: Playing defense. The Hokies allow only 0.87 points per possession after adjustment, the 13th best rate in the nation.

Youth Movement: The players ranking 3-4-5 in percentage of minutes played for Virginia Tech are all freshmen, and the team plays six freshmen in its 10-man rotation.

Glacial Pace: Virgina Tech and Boston College rank 10th and 11th, respectively, out of 12 ACC teams in adjusted tempo. Only NC state plays slower.

The Big Question: How will the suspension of Virginia Tech's best defensive player, first-year forward Jeff Allen, affect the team's normally outstanding defense?

Result: Virginia Tech, 81-73 in 70 possessions (OT)

Quotable: "We're not building that we're young in for the reason we're turning it over and losing games. We're not going to build in the reasons why not, we're going to build in the reasons why. That's the mindset—from the second that Duke [loss on Thursday] ended, I didn't want to hear 36 hours, I didn't want to hear we don't have Jeff Allen. The character of that team was represented in the last five minutes. We had a bunch of kids step up and make huge plays."
--Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg

Seminal Play: Freshman Hank Thorns drove left, rose up, and nailed a three-pointer with 3:42 to play in overtime that gave the Hokies back a one-point lead they would not relinquish.

---

CHESTNUT HILL, MA—In overtime at Conte Forum, Virginia Tech found an offensive stride it had lacked all season to defeat Boston College 81-73 on Saturday afternoon.

The Hokies managed to push their offense into overdrive when faced with the prospect of losing a game that they led by three with 10 seconds remaining in regulation. After guard Rakim Sanders hit a long-range jumper to tie the contest at 66 with three seconds to play in the second half, and guard Biko Paris opened the scoring for Boston College in overtime with two free throws, the Hokies scored on each of their final seven possessions of the game to come up with their first-ever win against the Eagles in Boston. Virginia Tech notched 1.9 points per possession in the extra session, an output that seemed out of the reach of a team that entered the game having scored less than a point per trip on the season.

In the absence of leading rebounder and defensive catalyst Jeff Allen, the 6'7 freshman forward who was suspended two games for bumping an official last Saturday, the Hokies were led to victory by another freshman—diminutive point guard Hank Thorns. The unexpected catalyst, who stands barely 5'8", had scored only two points in 24 minutes heading into the extra session. But he was unafraid to pull up and hit the biggest shot of the game, knocking down a three-pointer off a flare screen to give Virginia Tech back the lead at 69-68 with 3:42 remaining in overtime.

“I got room and rhythm, and that's my shoot, so I'm gonna shoot it, and it went down,” Thorns said. “My three was a confidence booster. It gave us a spark.”

The shot certainly sparked Thorns, as on the very next play he raced ahead of the pack for a layup after fellow-freshman J.T. Thompson stole the ball from forward Shamari Spears. After Boston College's standout point guard Tyrese Rice uncharacteristically missed two free throws, Thorns streaked up the court and whistled a crisp pass across the lane to a waiting Deron Washington, who deposited the basket for a five-point lead with two minutes remaining.

From that point forward the game turned into a free-throw shooting contest for Virginia Tech, and the Hokies—who had only made 10-of-23 at the stripe up to that point—shot a perfect 6-of-6 to finish off the win. Thorns hit four of those free throws, giving him nine of the team's 15 points in overtime.

“Hank's not afraid. That's why he's here,” Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “You're not 5'7 and a half and make it to this level if you're afraid.”

Thorns also played a part in shutting down Rice, the Eagles' most dangerous offensive weapon, down the stretch. Rice led all scorers with 27 points, but he was held without a point during the final six minutes of regulation and all of overtime. He was 0-of-5 from the floor during that stretch.

“You can tell he was getting a little frustrated, because I was denying him a lot—I wasn't letting them reverse the ball back to him,” Thorns said. “You could see it on his face, but he's a smart player, he doesn't show it a lot.”

Thorns and his teammates led by eight at halftime, but the lack of their defensive stopper Allen, who leads the team in both offensive and defensive rebounding, as well as steals, began to take its toll as the game progressed. An 8-0 Boston College run midway through the second period, consisting of two buckets down low plus a free throw from Spears and a very long three-pointer by Rice, gave the Eagles a one-point lead. From that point forward it was a back-and-forth tussle down to Boston College's last possession of regulation, when Sanders dribbled to the wing and nailed the tough contested triple that tied it.

The Hokies posted a 46 eFG%, but were able to collect 51% of their own misses and score 24 second-chance points. Thompson, who had a season-high 14 points and 12 boards, including six on the offensive glass, and junior guard A.D. Vassallo, who tied a career high with 11 boards, stepped up in the absence of Allen. Virginia Tech also took outstanding care of the ball, with turnovers on only 11 percent of possessions. Turnover rate has been a big issue for Virginia Tech this year after they were the sixth best team in the nation at protecting the ball last year, and the Hokies had coughed it up 99 times in their five ACC games entering Saturday.

“The most important stat is [only] eight turnovers,” Greenberg said. “We've prided ourselves over the last four years at taking care of the basketball, and we've struggled [this year].”

Washington led the Hokies with 19 points and added eight rebounds. Sanders scored 17 for Boston College, and 6'11” center Tyrelle Blair, who entered sixth in the nation in block percentage, rejected six Virginia Tech attempts.

Virginia Tech evened its record in the ACC at 3-3, and will return home for its next two games against Florida State and Virginia. The Eagles dropped to 3-2, and will now head south to play two of the conference's toughest in North Carolina and Clemson.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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