The most challenging week of Virginia Tech's basketball season began with an improbable comeback against the first ranked opponent the Hokies had faced in a month.
Overcoming rampant foul issues, slothful defense and a future NBA lottery pick, Tech defeated 23rd-ranked Wake Forest 87-83 at Cassell Coliseum on Tuesday.
This the Hokies did in unexpected style for a grimy defensive bunch that coach Seth Greenberg lovingly calls "junkyard dogs." They scored 55 second-half points, their most productive period this season, and shot 51.6 percent in the process.
Naturally, Malcolm Delaney, the league's top scorer, paved the road with a game-best 31 points. But Dorenzo Hudson's fearless drives and 21 points, and JT Thompson's relentless work inside for 16 points were equally indispensible.
Tech is 7-1 in games decided by six points or fewer, or in overtime.
"It's the kids," Greenberg said. "They're resilient and tough-minded. … They understand how to get back in a game. You get back in a game by making stops."
Tech long ago established that its margin for error is minimal. Against a ranked opponent, even more so.
The Hokies crossed that threshold early and often in falling behind 40-32 at halftime.
Slow transition defense and sloppy turnovers led to 12 Wake Forest fast-break points in the first half. Moreover the Hokies missed six free throws during the period, three by the usually reliable Delaney.
Tech's interior defense was helpless after Jeff Allen and Victor Davila went to the bench with two early fouls. Allen's were especially foolish, both coming well off the ball.
Al-Farouq Aminu promptly abused Thompson, Lewis Witcher and Cadarian Raines, scoring 14 of his 21 first-half points with Allen and Davila on the bench.
Greenberg elected not to gamble on either picking up a third before halftime, and wisely so given that Delaney kept the margin within reason.
When Allen and Davila committed early second-half fouls, Greenberg again adjusted sagely, using a 2-3 zone that the Deacons (18-6, 8-4) attacked tentatively. Shockingly, Wake forgot about Aminu, who scored only four second-half points while attempting just three shots.
Through no fault of its own — blame the scheduling fates and the ACC's lack of elite teams — Tech had gone a month without facing a ranked opponent. The Hokies went 7-1 after their Jan. 16 loss at Florida State.
But Tuesday's visit from Wake and Sunday's test at No. 6 Duke make this the season's most difficult week.
"All this stuff is useless Sunday," Greenberg said of the victory.
Many have commented, and will again, on Tech's schedule. Yes, it's been forgiving, and yes, it's partially due to an ACC rotation over which the teams have no control.
But say this for the Hokies: They have met most every challenge.